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What is multicloud?

Matt Jeavons (Head of Transformation)

Multicloud has become one of the buzzwords of modern IT, yet there’s a lack of agreement on what it actually means. When people talk about multicloud, they often define it in terms of removing lock-in with any single cloud vendor or solution, so that the organisation is free to embrace the choice and flexibility that the cloud offers.

This is clearly an important part of its value, but there’s another dimension to multicloud that’s often overlooked. It relates to the shift away from the challenges of maintaining legacy IT infrastructure, towards enabling the adoption of a vast range of services without the technical and cost implications of managing on-premises. In essence, it’s not a cloud-first strategy; it’s a service-first strategy.

Building a multicloud environment

Part of the challenge of finding a commonly-agreed definition of multicloud stems from the range of ways it can be implemented. Firstly, multicloud adoption is not mutually exclusive from hybrid cloud. While hybrid is typically a mix of deployment models, such as on-premises, hosted private cloud and public cloud, multicloud involves adoption of multiple cloud solutions from different providers.

In practice, multicloud will likely involve a mix of virtual machines, Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Depending on their job role, most employees will be familiar with one or more of these services, such as Azure SQL Server or AWS Elastic Beanstalk (PaaS), AWS or Azure (IaaS) or SaaS solutions like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Apps. In some cases, organisations may use the same cloud provider for multiple solutions, such as Salesforce both as a development platform and as a CRM service.

Benefits of multicloud

At the core of multicloud’s attraction is that no two cloud providers are the same, and each has its own area of specialisation and distinct benefits. Multicloud enables organisations to capitalise on these different capabilities and select the services that meet their needs and budget. This ensures faster time to market and eases the process of managing cloud services, alongside cost savings and efficiency benefits.

As a result, organisations gain access to the latest innovations and technologies across different providers, ensuring they’re always running workloads in the optimal location based on cost and performance requirements.

Multicloud also enables organisations to run core services that are typically not profitable on-premises, such as payroll and HR, on an ‘as-a-service’ basis. For example, we’re helping our customers implement solutions such as NetApp’s Cloud Volumes ONTAP, which allows them to consolidate their services into public cloud locations. The customer can choose where to run their workloads and reap all the benefits of cloud services without having to architect their cloud infrastructure themselves, which in turn assures best practice and security.

Establish a multicloud rationale

Organisations need to have a clear, thoroughly understood rationale before starting down the multicloud route. It must balance a drive for efficiency and operational excellence with the space to innovate for the future, a consideration that is frequently forgotten. Once they know what they’re trying to do, they’re better positioned to understand what they will need to deliver it.

It may sound simple, but organisations face many challenges when they begin implementing multicloud. The biggest issue is that the low barrier to cloud adoption sees multicloud usage forced upon organisations as opposed to its adoption being a conscious, strategic choice.

Business units are able to spin up cloud services without their being part of an organisation-wide IT approach. When the IT team begins to assess cloud options, they may find services are already in place, but without proper consideration of whether they are the best services for the job, whether they are delivering value, whether they are interoperable with other IT infrastructure or whether they meet security requirements. This is why having a formal, well-understood multicloud strategy in place is so important.

Multicloud is a vital element in many organisations’ ongoing transformation strategies. It can help an organisation to define which functions and services it needs, where they are best located and how they should be configured in order to deliver the optimal balance of choice and cost efficiency.