Weighing the pros and cons of public, hybrid, and multicloud architecture

Weighing the pros and cons of public, hybrid, and multicloud architecture

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The cloud has practically limitless potential in the data storage, server, and networking software domains, whether because of operating cost, speed, ease of use, or security and reliability advantages. A report from Multisoft claims that 80% of companies report operation improvements within the first few months of adopting the cloud. That’s perhaps why Gartner anticipated that revenue from the cloud sector will jump to $331 billion by 2022, up from $175 billion in 2018.

But “the hybrid cloud” is a nebulous phrase that glosses over the nuances of the technology. While some cloud operations reside on “public cloud” platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure, others leverage a combination of on-premises hardware or even a mixture of public clouds and private datacenters. The complexity of configurations can be a barrier to enterprises on the cusp of adoption, particularly in light of the talent gap. A recent 451 Research survey found that 90% of organizations are experiencing a shortage of cloud-related skills.

The types of clouds

A public cloud comprises computing resources from a third-party service provider, which can include anything from apps and virtual machines to infrastructures and development platforms. These resources, which are available for free or on a subscription-based or pay-per-usage basis, are run on servers in datacenters maintained by the public cloud provider. Service providers maintain hardware and provide high-bandwidth network connectivity as well as manage the underlying virtualization software.

Public cloud architectures are multitenant environments, which is to say that customers share a pool of automatically provisioned and allocated resources. While each customer’s data is isolated from that of other customers, multiple customers’ workloads often run on shared physical servers. Of course, depending on the cloud provider in question, companies may be able to pay for exclusive use of an instance or hardware for a finite or extended period of time.

Public clouds can save companies from having to purchase, manage, and maintain on-premises hardware and app infrastructure. Moreover, they can be deployed faster than on-premises infrastructures — at least some of the time.

Gartner projects the emergence of managed services will cause the cloud market to grow 18.4% in 2021, with cloud predicted to make up 14.2% of total global IT spending. “As enterprises increase investments in mobility, collaboration, and other remote working technologies and infrastructure, growth in public cloud [will] be sustained through 2024,” Gartner wrote in a November 2020 study.

Public cloud challenges

But public clouds have their drawbacks. For example, multitenancy might be a concern for businesses that need to meet regulatory requirements, because it comes with a risk of data leakage and compromise. Data privacy laws in many countries require certain types of data to be stored in-country, and it can be difficult to implement the same security policies both for an organization’s internal resources and for a public cloud that’s outside of an organization’s control.

IBM found last year that the average time to identify a breach was 206 days. And Gartner predicts that 50% of companies will unintentionally expose components of their cloud applications and infrastructure to the internet in 2021, up from 25% in 2018.

With public clouds, there’s also the technical issues of latency as well as vendor lock-in. An organization that uses the cloud will save money and become more flexible, but it can also end up reliant upon the cloud vendor’s services (the virtual machines, storage, applications, and technologies they provide) in order to maintain their business operations — although it’s worth noting that some clouds offer tools that make it easy to migrate between clouds.

According to a recent CloudCheckr survey of enterprises, while 57% reported that more than half of their infrastructure is in the cloud, security concerns, compliance and regulations, and lack of application support remain significant challenges to cloud migration. Ninety-three percent of respondents said that their organizations face blockers with budgeting infrastructure cloud costs, and 94% said that they’d experienced unexpected cloud costs. Only 31% reported that they were able to monitor and optimize public cloud costs “effectively,” meanwhile.

Then there’s the talent gap. According to Forrester, after a decade of cloud experience, organizations continue to face a talent shortage for all cloud-related skills. “Although legacy skill sets translate well to new cloud technologies, the cultural leap to evaluate, select, and operate for productivity, system-level efficiency, and workload-specific problem solving is proving to be a challenge,” Forrester said in a March 2020 report. “Enterprise attempts to hire and train talent are constantly plagued with poaching by the cloud vendors themselves.”

Hybrid cloud and multicloud

Beyond the public cloud, enterprises are adopting multicloud and hybrid cloud architectures, which can offer greater flexibility depending on the use case. Hybrid clouds always include a private cloud — i.e., exclusive cloud environments usually behind a firewall and traditionally run on-premises — and are typically managed as one entity. On the other hand, multiclouds always include more than one public cloud service but don’t always include a private cloud component.

A hybrid cloud app might tap an on-premises database while running app code both in the on-premises private cloud and scaling to the public cloud when demand increases. They become multicloud when there’s more than one public cloud service combined with private cloud resources. Indeed, the main difference between hybrid and multicloud architecture is where non-cloud resources are located. Hybrid clouds leverage existing on-premises servers, storage, and networking whereas in a multicloud environment, those resources are also in the cloud.

Hybrid clouds make sense for businesses managing resources privately either in both on-premises and cloud hosted environments or migrating from a complete on-premises solution to a configuration that incorporates some usage of public cloud capacity. They might also appeal to organizations that are moving back to a private, on-premises data center from being primarily cloud-based.

The benefits of multicloud and hybrid cloud are myriad. For one, multicloud strategies can mitigate risk and vendor lock-in by switching between service providers. Businesses are also freer to make architectural decisions based on sourcing, architecture, and governance factors.

Hybrid and multicloud challenges

Of course, multicloud and hybrid cloud come with their own set of challenges. On the security side, organizations need an identity architecture that works with any given public and private cloud setup. They also need to manage costs in an environment where it might be difficult to tell whether cutting back on servers, for example, is less a capital-intensive option than eliminating a local datacenter.  Organizations adopting multicloud and hybrid cloud must also figure out which services are best for specific tasks and find monitoring tools designed to deliver a consolidated view across different cloud providers or environments.

Compliance costs also remain high with multicloud and hybrid cloud. In a 2017 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of execs at U.S., U.K., and Japanese tech companies, 88% said their company planned to spend over $1 million preparing for the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the run-up to its full May 2018 implementation. A smaller percentage of respondents — 40% — said they expected to spend $10 million or more.

“In many cases, multi-cloud environments are replacing proven, cohesive legacy IT infrastructures that have been in place for years,” CIO reporter Bob Violino writes. “To make the transition successful, and to ensure workflows aren’t disrupted, companies must make the various cloud services fit together as if in a puzzle … [But the] challenge of making sure the pieces fit together can be all the more daunting for technology and business leaders because of the increasing complexity of the technology landscape and architecture.”

The potential roadblocks don’t appear to be slowing the deployment of multicloud and hybrid cloud. According to a recent study by RightScale, organizations leverage almost 5 different cloud platforms on average. And Gartner reports that 81% of organizations believe a multicloud approach has proven beneficial to them.

ROI

Juggling private, public, hybrid, and multicloud deployments isn’t easy. But on the whole, the enterprises say that their investments in internal cloud strategies and teams are paying off. The CloudCheckr survey found that companies with a cloud center of excellence — that is, a team tasked with developing a framework for cloud operations — saw higher benefits than those where cloud expertise wasn’t organized.

As the pandemic continues, organizations will likely increasingly rely on remote work — and by extension, cloud services — to help stem the spread of the virus. Gartner projects that this will cause the cloud market to grow 18.4% in 2021, with cloud predicted to make up 14.2% of total global IT spending. Businesses have the power to add $414 billion in net new profits to the industry by increasing their cloud investments to enhance their organizational speed and capabilities, IT consulting firm Infosys found in its latest Cloud Radar Report.

“While it’s no surprise to anyone how strong cloud adoption is today, this report shows the tremendous growth ahead and how quickly it will happen over the next half decade. Now is the time for IT organizations to define the right strategies to utilize the full potential of the cloud and for cloud service providers to enhance their capabilities to lead their customers through cloud transformations,” CloudCheckr CEO Tim McKinnon said in a press release. “Migrating to the cloud is only the first step. It’s up to organizations to adopt the right technology and form teams — be it internally or externally — to develop and manage cloud strategy, governance, and best practices.”

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