The good, the bad and the ugly of multi-cloud

Multi-cloud may be in favor today, but is the reasoning strong enough to keep it that way?
16 December 2019

Google Cloud sign located at the entrance to one of their campuses located in Silicon Valley. Source: Shutterstock

Cloud computing is the future they told us.

Leave all your IT concerns at the door and buy into an on-demand Software (and Platform, and Infrastructure) as-a-Service model that benefits from true elasticity, robust back end security provisioning and a seamless experience for all who plug into the cloud, as it is piped hot and fresh for us from the datacenter whenever we need it.

That was the public cloud dream scenario, and, in marketing terms if nothing else, it mostly still is.

Of course, it doesn’t quite work like that in the real world because public cloud comes with inefficient Reserved Instance pricing structures, the issue of multi-tenant servers which some use cases will not permit, location governance issues, and a world of other extenuating factors from latency concerns to GDPR compliance issues. This is the ugly face of cloud.

In the end, as we have already discussed here on TechHQ, buying cloud turns out to be quite cloudy a lot of the time.

So, if public cloud is not the total panacea it was initially thought to be and real-world enterprises will need to run some public, some private in a hybrid (public + private) multi- (from more than one provider) cloud architecture, is that okay and can we all settle down now?

Not quite, there are other factors at play here in the multi-cloud world.

Multi-cloud manure

Co-founder of open-source time-series database company InfluxData is Paul Dix. Cleaning up his colorful comment with the use of a term related to waste products that emanate from bulls, Dix says that multi-cloud is ‘bunkum & claptrap’ (we told you we cleaned it up) for real-world enterprises.

But, as much as Dix poo-poos the workability of multi-cloud deployments in your company or mine, at the same time, he says that it’s a critical model for cloud services vendors. So why is this so?

“As we move into 2020, enterprise tech customers will finally realize that pursuing a multi-cloud strategy is proving to be worthless. It takes enormous effort and adds a lot of complexity to build systems that can switch between different public clouds for the relatively meager benefit of hedging against outages and vendor lock-in,” said Dix.

He concedes that, of course, technology vendors must continue to build solutions that work across all major public clouds in order to satisfy the demands of a diverse base of customers, that each chooses cloud providers based on their specific needs.

But he suggests that, for customers, the goal of hedging against failures is just not meaningful when prolonged outages among major cloud providers, the kind that would require a company to shift operations to another cloud, have been practically non-existent.

“As for avoiding vendor lock-in, it ends up being more expensive for end-users to build the same system in multiple clouds than to build for your cloud of choice and then possibly move to another cloud if the terms or functionality get bad,” said Dix.

It’s probably not unfair to classify Dix in the naysayer camp with regard to these comments. Others are more open to the possibility of working across a varied cloud space where a selection of as-a-Service technologies are brought together.

Cloud sentiment barometer

Enterprise cloud company Nutanix conducts its Enterprise Cloud Index survey and research report every year through Vanson Bourne to attempt to gauge some kind of barometer reading on where sentiment lies in current cloud deployments.

The company says it analyzes adoption of private, hybrid and public clouds to look for trends and outliers that may suggest which way the trend for deployments is shifting.

The vast majority of 2019 survey respondents (85 percent) selected hybrid cloud as their ideal IT operating model. The report found enterprises plan to aggressively shift investment to hybrid cloud architectures, with respondents reporting steady and substantial hybrid deployment plans over the next five years.

Vanson Bourne researchers surveyed 2,650 IT decision-makers in 24 countries around the world about where they’re running their business applications today, where they plan to run them in the future, what their cloud challenges are, and how their cloud initiatives stack up against other IT projects and priorities.

The 2019 respondent base spanned multiple industries, business sizes, and the following geographies: the Americas; Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA); and the Asia-Pacific (APJ) region.

We can conclude that this report illustrated that creating and executing a cloud strategy has become a multidimensional challenge.

At one time, a primary value proposition associated with the public cloud was substantial upfront CapEx savings. But a one-sized cloud strategy doesn’t fit all use cases.

For example, while applications with unpredictable usage may be best suited to the public clouds offering elastic IT resources, workloads with more predictable characteristics can often run on-premises at a lower cost than public cloud.

Savings are also dependent on businesses’ ability to match each application to the appropriate cloud service and pricing tier and to remain diligent about regularly reviewing service plans and fees, which change frequently.

“As organizations continue to grapple with complex digital transformation initiatives, flexibility and security are critical components to enable seamless and reliable cloud adoption,” said Wendy M. Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix.

“The enterprise has progressed in its understanding and adoption of hybrid cloud, but there is still work to do when it comes to reaping all of its benefits. In the next few years, we’ll see businesses rethinking how to best utilize hybrid cloud, including hiring for hybrid computing skills and reskilling IT teams to keep up with emerging technologies.”

Where do we go from here?

So where do we go from here and did any of this discussion clarify anything?

Well, we know that public cloud is sometimes more expensive than it should be because of contractual restrictions, complexity when having too many difficult-to-integrate multi-cloud deployments, and the reality of publicly-hosted applications that would have been more efficiently located on private clouds i.e. those things we used to call servers, basically.

We also know that there is a positive feeling for hybrid cloud, but then many would argue that the trend has been evident for most of the last half-decade, if not longer. We also know that when companies do adopt multi-cloud hybrid models that it can be darn tough to know which application should be located where at any given time.

Cloud computing is still the future, but the forecast is still windy, changeable and blustery at times. Take a raincoat.