Multi-Cloud : What’s in a Name?

Multi-cloud is hot and happening at the moment. As companies start to consume more clouds the questions around multi-cloud become more relevant too. This article describes multi-cloud from an IT operations perspective and what is relevant to look at.

Cloud has been around more than a decade now. Over the last years we have seen cloud computing become the standard way of consuming IT resources to host applications. Companies are building private clouds, consuming resources through an as-service model from public cloud or have something in between with hybrid cloud.

Either way cloud has become the standard whatever form you are currently consuming. But with that a new cloud discussions have started:  The discussions around multi-cloud.

However the definition of multi-cloud is a difficult one and leads to debates “what is” and “what is not” multi-cloud. Is hybrid cloud multi-cloud? Is consuming multiple public clouds multi-cloud? Can I have multi-cloud if I do not have a private cloud?

All these questions are relevant when trying to understand multi-cloud from an IT Operations perspective. So let’s look into multi-cloud and come to an understanding what it actually means.

Evolving Cloud to Multi-Cloud

To start we need to go back to the beginning of cloud. Most enterprise companies started more then a decade ago with the idea of moving towards self-service IT provisioning. This ultimately led to the concept of “cloud computing” in 2011 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Since that time companies have started to evolve and build their own private clouds. Transforming their infrastructure to become a platform that can service IT resources to its consumer easily by providing a self-service portal or API to request them.

However this also became a business model which resulted in what we nowadays know as public cloud offerings. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google started to share their infrastructure and allow enterprises to consume IT services that they build on top that.

Over the past decade enterprises have started to adopt these public cloud services to run their applications on. And with most of them already having a private cloud, that resulted in multiple clouds being used to host the enterprise applications leveraging the IT services provided through cloud.

All of these clouds, private or public, are able to host all IT services that a consumer of the platform could wish for.

The difference of course being the fact that in a private cloud the internal IT department is responsible for it everything. And with public cloud the cloud provider is responsible to a point where you consume the service and manage it yourself.

Virtual Machine-as-a-Service is different then Container-as-a-Service or Public Cloud services that deliver an IT functionality such as database, DNS or functions. But all are used for one thing : hosting applications. And all can reside in a private or a public cloud.

So defining multi-cloud is the usage and management of multiple cloud platforms to host the applications. This could be a private and public cloud(s), typically also referred to as hybrid cloud, or it could be multiple public clouds.

Multi-Cloud Infrastructure and Management

When enterprises move towards the usage of multiple clouds they are challenged with the fact to have consistent management strategy across the multiple clouds. After all enterprise IT is still responsible for managing all IT resources.

The picture above gives a graphical representation of the differences in responsibility when it comes to managing multiple clouds.

From a private cloud perspective enterprise IT is responsible for everything. The cloud infrastructure, the cloud management   platform, the applications and the data are all under the control and governance of the enterprise IT organisation.

This is of course is different with public cloud providers. As this is where enterprise IT consumes services from the public cloud provider. They are responsible for the cloud services and the infrastructure that they run on. Still enterprise IT is responsible for the management of its public cloud services and  the infrastructure the applications and data that run on it.

And this is where the different perspectives towards multi-cloud are shown.

Multi-Cloud Infrastructure refers to the different cloud infrastructure platforms that host the services, applications and data. Managed by either enterprise IT for private cloud offerings or the cloud provider for public cloud offerings . Located in a customer hosting location that is owned or rented by the IT enterprise or in case of the cloud provider hosted inside of their datacenters across the world.

Multi-Cloud Management refers to the control plane that enterprise IT uses to have a consistent management layer across the clouds that run the applications. Giving enterprises the ability to be in control and to apply governance on all the clouds that run the enterprise applications.

Multi-Cloud Management in that regard is different from Private Cloud Management.

You will still need to manage your private cloud : build the infrastructure, create the services and deploy and manage your applications. A cloud management platform is then needed to create a private cloud. The cloud management platform is that abstraction layer that enables IT Operations to create cloud services

However there is a need for multi-cloud management when enterprises start to use multiple clouds to deliver their applications. Things like cost control, security and compliance are typical capabilities that needs to be consistently managed across clouds.

Defining Multi-Cloud

Defining Multi-Cloud depends on what perspective you take. In general, we need to be very careful in the definition of multi-cloud and have a consensus when we step into a conversation with different people that might have different perspectives. Due to their role or understanding of multi-cloud there might be

As a general statement when defining multi-cloud, we can say that it always involved multiple cloud solutions either private clouds or publics clouds.  After that it depends on the perspective you want to take either from an application, infrastructure, data or management perspective. All valid perspectives, so all can discuss multi-cloud.

The outline given above was primarily focussed on IT Infrastructure & Operations perspective. Outlining that there is a difference between the fact if you look at it from a cloud infrastructure of a cloud management perspective.

VMware seeks to empower its customer to do that. We will explore the possibilities in future blog posts around the topic of multi-cloud.

Posted by Editor