Does multi-cloud hype match reality? Five reasons to buy in

By Charles Custer, senior technology researcher, Cockroach Labs.

  • 4 months ago Posted in

From the boardroom to the break room and every industry survey in between it seems multi-cloud is the direction of travel - but does the hype match the promise?


There’s certainly a lot of obstacles to overcome for any organisation embarking on a multi-cloud strategy. Service providers offer what we call “squint-only” compatibility between each other; overcoming that at an architecture, platform and management level demands a huge commitment and a certain level of technical maturity. 


Get it wrong and you’re looking at the kinds of costs and operational complexity that can easily diminish the potential returns of multi cloud.


Our latest State of Multi-Cloud 2024 report examines best practices for success in building multi-cloud and looks at organisations' key reasons for adoption. We spoke to 300 experts in technical leadership roles in the US and Europe and interviewed our own engineering team building multi-cloud environments for customers on AWS, GCP and Azure to get a clear understanding of how - and why - people are moving to multi-cloud.


What did we discover? These are the top five reasons - along with the nuances and considerations - for you to consider:


Regulatory compliance


This was the number-one reason for companies taking the multi-cloud route. Rules on data residency are nothing new - they have long been a fact of life for doing business at a sector, national and/or international level for many. Multi-cloud, however, has become part of the response to new policies and regulations: the Bank of England’s Statement of Principle on Operational Resilience and the EU’s DORA which takes effect in January 2025, were both driven by governments’ concerns over maintaining the finance function in the event of cloud-service outages. The risk is that, with so many banks relying on the same providers an outage in one supplier could take down a whole company or an entire sector. Failover to their existing service provider’s different region simply isn’t sufficient and might not be possible under data residency rules. Multi-cloud has therefore become an important way to achieve service resilience by diversifying suppliers.


Avoid vendor lock-in


Vendor lock-in has traditionally gone hand-in-glove with enterprise IT, leaving customers feeling powerless in the face of roadmap and pricing changes. Multi-cloud lets you diversify suppliers to avoid becoming tied into a single provider’s technology roadmap at the expense of your own IT plans. Also, it can mean potentially regaining leverage during contract negotiations. Our interviews with experts, however, found a degree of scepticism about the value of multi-cloud as a negotiation tool. A scenario where it can be potentially effective is in a market where one provider dominates and competitors are trying to expand, by offering low prices to tempt the incumbent’s customers. Cloud providers, though, will be aware that the task of cloud migration is difficult and costly for customers; many who operate multi-cloud continue to concentrate their workloads on a primary supplier. Either way, multi-cloud is about reserving the right to migrate and the option to run workloads with different suppliers. How far you follow through is down to you.


Serve customer requirements


If you are an infrastructure provider or deliver software-as-a-service to other businesses, multi-cloud offers a great way to run workloads in a way that suits your customers. Some customers, for example, could be all-in on AWS, meaning their workloads must run on it. Others will consider Amazon a competitor so won’t place workloads or data on AWS because it means funding a rival. In a business-to-business setting, multi-cloud means providing your infrastructure or services on AWS, GCP or Azure in addition to private clouds to meet those business or operational requirements customers might have.


Attract talent, empower your team


The IT skills shortage is a decades’ old story that’s been accentuated by digitalisation, yet in one industry survey, 74 percent of organisations said the multi-cloud model actually allowed them to attract and retain staff. That might sound counterintuitive given so many are chasing exactly the same people - those skilled in the tools and technologies to build clouds. Our experts, however, corroborated this data saying building multi-cloud applications actually helped them land the best engineering talent. Consultant McKinsey elaborates on the potential reasons for this. It suggests a big part of multi-cloud’s appeal is that it gives developers, engineers, operations teams and architects the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technologies, using tools they prefer and gives them free rein to experiment. Multi-cloud can therefore create a rewarding, working environment and enhance the prospects for professional development.


Operational cost savings


This is seen as one of cloud’s biggest wins but how does this work in practice? Operating across multiple clouds means you can potentially chase the best pricing in near real-time, spinning-up servers on the cloud that is most affordable or offers the best deal in a specific region at a given time. Putting aside the technology and process needed to make this work, the deal breaker will invariably be the cost of moving data between service providers - it’s an expensive business. So this kind of initiative can be effective in scenarios such as ephemeral spot-instance game servers that rely on a tiny amount of persistent data such as player performance statistics but would be less suited to workloads that require lots of persistent data like a line-of-business application. 



The pace of multi-cloud adoption is likely to accelerate during the next few years. Those who identify clear justifications and who leverage the right tools and approaches in the process can avoid introducing unnecessary cost and complexity. In so doing they stand to realise the benefits they envisaged - making multi-cloud right for them.

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