What is Multi-cloud Architecture and What Can It Do for Your Business?
In 2019, Gartner predicted that more than three-quarters of large and midsize businesses would be adopting hybrid or multi cloud strategies by 2021. That prediction actually underestimated the rapid cloud adoption pace. The latest Flexera State of the Cloud report reveals that 93% of enterprises are already using multiple cloud service providers.
Businesses are using Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud services, and other providers for public cloud deployment along with private clouds and both on-prem and off-site data centers. Despite the pandemic, spending on multi-cloud environments accelerated during 2020 as businesses migrated more applications and data to the cloud to accommodate remote workers.
On average, organizations are already using 2.6 public and 2.7 private clouds as part of their enterprise cloud architecture. As organizations continue to migrate legacy applications, which often require refactoring, into modern environments, the digital transformation of businesses will continue.
What is Multi-cloud Architecture?
A multi-cloud architecture uses services from multiple cloud providers to realize the business benefits that include boosting innovation, access to specialized hardware not available on-premises, and the ability to scale compute and data storage as the business grows. A multi-cloud strategy may combine a mix of public and private cloud (hybrid cloud) or combine multiple public cloud providers.
A multi-cloud architecture provides resiliency. Using a distributed deployment for applications allows you to leverage characteristics of cloud computing environments for optimal efficiencies. Using different clouds and services and tailoring applications to their inherent strengths leads to more efficient and better outcomes. For example, one cloud’s better GPUs for specific workloads and leveraging a second cloud for their best-of-class analytics engine.
You may also want to create redundant architecture by deploying the same multi-cloud application across different cloud services.
Why Use a Multi-Cloud Environment?
There are several reasons why a multi-cloud architecture makes sense. By leveraging the best cloud for each workload, you can use the latest advances in technology and services, adopt a pay-as-you-go model for the resources you consume, and move between clouds as they compete in innovation and price. By separating your workloads, you can control costs, build in redundancy, and keep your proprietary data more secure.
Advantages of a Multi-Cloud Architecture
A significant advantage of a multi-cloud architecture is risk management. If one cloud provider experiences a system outage, you can quickly move operations to another vendor until the service is restored.
However, there are other reasons to use a hybrid multi-cloud architecture. For example:
If your users are widely distributed geographically, selecting multiple cloud providers based on proximity can improve performance.
Your primary cloud provider may not have a presence in countries that require data to remain in-country, so utilizing a second cloud provider there will fulfill data sovereignty requirements.
Physically separating your development and testing environments from your production environment.
Augmenting on-premises data centers with public cloud capabilities and scale
Avoiding vendor lock-in
Hosting applications closest to end-users
Companies are also using multi-cloud architecture because of regulations for storing data. For example, European Courts are now evaluating whether the General Data Protection Regulations require data collected about EU residents to be stored in the EU.
Designing a Multi-Cloud Architecture
The type of multi-cloud architecture you choose will depend on the type of applications that are deployed, your performance needs, and budgetary concerns. In a perfect environment, you would want full redundancy on everything, running parallel cloud services with each hosting all of your applications. However, that can get expensive.
Reality dictates that you take a cost savings approach by evaluating risk. While mission-critical applications might require such resiliency, users might be able to deal with downtime of other applications without significant concern.
The big advantage to moving to multi-cloud is innovation. By designing your structure to take advantage of the strengths of multiple clouds, you can deploy applications and data with the service that’s the best fit. This lets you run workloads on the best cloud rather than trying to shoehorn everything into a less than ideal environment when your primary provider isn’t the best fit for certain workloads.
Another thing to keep in mind when designing your multi-cloud architecture is complexity. As you add a more complex network to your infrastructure, it means more multi-cloud management architecture is required.
The most common deployments for multi-cloud environments include:
Distributed — Tiered Hybrid
Distributed — Partitioned Multi-Cloud
Redundant — Active-Active
Redundant — Active-Passive
Redundant — Public-Private
Migrating applications and data to the cloud in a tiered fashion can be a cost-effective way to manage your resources. Often, companies will use multi-cloud management architecture and hybrid multi-cloud architecture to run mission-critical and sensitive applications in a private cloud while moving less critical functions into a public cloud.
One example of distributed deployment would be using a tiered hybrid cloud.
Tiered Hybrid Cloud
In a multi-cloud environment, you may want to separate frontend applications from backend applications.
Frontend applications are closest to end-users and are usually more performance-sensitive and require frequent updates. These applications typically manage the consumer or user interface but don’t themselves store significant amounts of data.
Backend applications, on the other hand, typically are all about the data. You need to manage and secure it.
In a tiered hybrid cloud environment, frontend applications would move to the public cloud while keeping backend applications in a more secure private cloud or on-premises.
Some workloads are more suitable for the cloud, such as data for analytics that’s copied up to the cloud for processing because the latency to pull from on-prem servers is too high. Other data is more sensitive in nature or subject to compliance regulations, dictating on-prem storage.
In a partitioned multi-cloud approach, organizations distribute services and applications across cloud providers. This lets you choose cloud providers based on the optimal fit for specific applications or services.
You may also use this strategy for compliance reasons, such as when you are required to maintain certain consumer data in specific physical locations.
A partitioned multi-cloud also allows you to shift workloads as needed and maintain portability.
Redundant multi-cloud architecture would include active-active, active-passive, and public-private.
Active-Active Multi-Cloud Architecture
In an active-active multi-cloud architecture, an application is deployed across multiple cloud providers. Each would have a load balancer in front of the application to ensure everything is running properly and to manage traffic.
The load balancer directs traffic to the best available server. If for some reason there is a failure of a cloud provider, the traffic is seamlessly directed to the other cloud service. Failover is automatic and end users should not even notice a change.
Active-Passive Multi-Cloud Architecture
In an active-passive multi-cloud architecture, the high-level setup is the same. However, the secondary cloud provider is not used unless there is a failure point, such as a server crash or interruption in service. It could also make the switch to a secondary server when pre-set traffic triggers are reached. Rather than overload the primary server, traffic is routed automatically to the secondary service.
While the backup server is up and running, it sits in ready mode until it’s needed.
An active-passive architecture will be less expensive than an active-active multi-cloud environment that uses multiple cloud services at the same time.
Public-Private Multi-Cloud Architecture
A hybrid public-private multi-cloud architecture is another solution that is used by many businesses. The architecture is divided between servers running on the public cloud and servers running in a private cloud. Typically, the private cloud would have a firewall and more robust security to restrict access to only what’s needed to share with the private cloud.
The same strategy applies if you are blending on-premises data centers with cloud data centers.
Key Considerations for Operating in a Multi-Cloud Architecture
As you can see multicloud architecture can take various forms and can quickly become complex, especially if multicloud infrastructure also includes a hybrid approach and varying levels of virtualization. However, in any multi-cloud architecture, security considerations including disaster recovery must be one of your top priorities.
In designing your multi-cloud architecture, you will also want to build in flexibility, scalability, operational efficiency, and the ability to move between environments.
When businesses leverage multiple cloud providers, there is a larger environment to secure and more potential threat vectors. Mitigating the increased attack surfaces mandates alignment of security policies across cloud vendors.
You may be in a large organization managing different levels of visibility for different cloud platforms which may each have different security features. Still, you need an easy way to centrally monitor everything on your network regardless of which cloud provider it is deployed in — the so-called “single pane of glass” that gives you easy access to visualize potential threats and take action.
Best practices would dictate a zero-trust policy applies to all multi-cloud traffic flows with policy-based border control. Data should be encrypted and monitored with packet inspection and real-time security.
It’s also essential to tightly manage your security policies across the multi-cloud. If you are deploying applications in parallel across two or more cloud services or cloud service providers, you should maintain the same security settings across each. Synchronizing your policies and settings makes security simpler.
However, if you are using a hybrid multi-cloud model, or deploying different applications or workloads across your environment, you may need to have individual security policies dictating usage.
When designing your multi-cloud architecture, it is important to create an infrastructure that provides business agility. By deploying applications in clouds that best meet requirements, you can optimize your performance and create an effective cloud strategy.
Moving Between Environments
It can be expensive to move applications or data between environments if it has been designed poorly. Architect your environment to be able to move applications between environments without the need to refactor.
Design for Operational Efficiency
It can be challenging to design for simplicity but the more complex your multi-cloud environment is, the more difficult it will be to manage. A unified operating model based on the simplest path to accomplishing your goals will improve efficiency and make system management easier.
Implementing a Multi-Cloud Strategy
Implementing a multi-cloud strategy provides many business benefits if organizations take the time to design and build the infrastructure they need. Too many businesses migrate to multi-cloud in an ad-hoc approach. Rather than taking the time to evaluate and properly architect the best solution, they add on additional cloud services or solutions.
Your multi-cloud architecture should be designed with a strategic focus on identifying and prioritizing your use cases as they align with your business requirements. Often the best strategy is to take a step back and design from the ground up.
Despite the rapid adoption cloud, many cloud initiatives fail because of poor planning. Research from IDC shows that just 11% of companies have optimized their cloud adoption. This is why it’s essential to clearly define the scope of your multi-cloud strategy before implementation.
A Roadmap for Multi-Cloud Implementation
Cisco, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of networking equipment, recommends creating a roadmap for implementation by focusing on these five steps:
Define your business objectives for deploying a multi-cloud environment
Document the key business processes and requirements need to meet these objectives
Identify and prioritize use cases in terms of requirements
Assess your existing infrastructure and processes as it pertains to project scoping
Develop a high-level solution to automate as many processes as possible
Create an action plan for implementation, which should include a multi-phased approach to build and integrate with the existing tech stack
It’s clear that multi-cloud environments are here to stay. As businesses need to stay agile, responsive, and competitive, multi-cloud architecture will only evolve and grow alongside.
Taking the time to fully develop your digital transformation roadmap to leverage the power of multi-cloud environments will help you optimize your infrastructure and better meet your evolving business needs.