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Multi-Clouds: The Latest Cloud Computing Frontier

Cloud computing technology continues to evolve at an astounding pace. As more individuals and organizations have embraced this technology, cloud computing architecture has changed to accommodate increasingly diverse requirements.

Initially, cloud computing was synonymous with public clouds which are hosted on shared servers. When security concerns were raised, many organizations adopted private clouds which are housed on dedicated servers. These developments spawned hybrid clouds which incorporate both public and private clouds. Now multi-clouds are becoming popular. The term multi-cloud refers to multiple public and/or private clouds (this generally includes hybrid clouds as well).


A recent study by Rightscale found that 77% of the respondents planned to implement multi-cloud strategies. These included 47% planning hybrid clouds, 15% planning multiple private clouds and 15% planning multiple public clouds. For companies with more than 1,000 employees, multi-cloud participation climbed to 88%. Notably, only 1% of businesses over 1,000 employees do not plan to use the cloud at all.

In some cases, multi-cloud installations have resulted from large organizations migrating applications to the clouds on a piece-meal basis. In other cases, the entire multi-cloud structure has been meticulously planned ahead of time.

Regardless of how they got there, many organizations are experiencing both the benefits and pitfalls of multi-clouds. In some ways, multi-clouds offer the best of all worlds. Applications requiring flexibility and scalability can be hosted on public clouds while applications requiring strict privacy and security can be hosted on private clouds.

Some multi-cloud installations have been developed primarily to increase redundancy and reduce risk. Companies with multi-clouds can avoid supplier lock-in as the clouds can be supported by multiple service providers. The risk of a major service interruption can be greatly reduced if services are distributed among several providers.

The challenge comes in integrating all of these clouds into a seamless network and providing adequate security to ALL of them. Interoperability between the clouds is critical. For example, an efficient design can enable a company to maintain the database primarily on the private cloud and mirror it on the public cloud. When traffic spikes against the database are experienced, the load can be shifted from the private cloud to the public cloud. This transition must be invisible to the user.

David Linthicum, in his article for InfoWorld, cites three core concepts to keep in mind when developing your multi-cloud strategy:

  • Multi-clouds require more thinking around security and governance, given their complexity and distribution.
  • Multi-clouds may develop resiliency issues, considering the number of moving parts.
  • Multi-clouds have value only if you select the right providers, whether on-demand or private, to meet your requirements.

Fortunately, the soaring demand for multi-clouds has fostered innovation and resulted in new products and services to help develop and maintain them.

  • Some service providers have developed tools to help clients manage multiple clouds regardless of whether they host them.
  • The development of open-source cloud platforms has facilitated the introduction of multi-cloud installations. Open-source platforms help to enable collaboration between clouds by providing open standards.
  • New companies such as Cloudability offer tools specifically for managing multi-cloud environments.
  • Service providers have made it easier to copy virtual machines between corporate data centers and providers. For the same reason, it is now easier to change providers as well.

While multi-clouds offer many benefits, the complexity and risks involved can be intimidating. In his article, David Linthicum offers some sound advice:

“It’s important that you take the lessons learned from building complex distributed systems to multi-cloud deployments. You need to understand that integration drives complexity, which must then be managed. There is no substitute for planning and architecture. As long as you take a disciplined view of multi-cloud, you’ll do just fine.”

Cloud computing technology is moving so quickly that it is hard to know what tomorrow will bring. Suffice it to say that, for the moment, the latest consensus seems to be “go forth and multiply”!

Written By

Thomas Parent blogs for Rackspace Hosting. Rackspace Hosting is the service leader in cloud computing, and a founder of OpenStack, an open source cloud operating system. The San Antonio-based company provides Fanatical Support to its customers and partners, across a portfolio of IT services, including Managed Hosting and Cloud Computing.

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