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Cloud strategy: hybrid and multi cloud are not the same

Feb 12, 20184 mins
Cloud ComputingHybrid CloudNetworking

But IT ops Is stuck in between the two.

private public hybrid cloud technology sign
Credit: Thinkstock

IDC tells us that most companies are using more than one cloud and that cloud usage isn’t just about cost savings. Three out of every four companies are using cloud to chase additional revenue in the form of new customers, risk mitigation, IoT enablement or time to market gains. Most are using multiple external cloud services.

However, especially as microservices become the dominant approach to new application development because of the iteration speed improvements that it provides, it has become important to distinguish the different ways that more than one cloud can be utilized. Specifically, the differences lie in where you sit in an organization and what you are trying to optimize from that seat. Although historically we’ve used the terms interchangeably, hybrid and multi cloud are not the same.

Multi cloud is for the CIO

The view from the CIO’s chair hasn’t really changed compared to prior technology waves. Avoiding vendor lock-in while balancing the feature benefits of multiple platforms has been the name of the game from that perch for more than 30 years. Many CIOs resisted blessing usage of public cloud in favor of private alternatives, but 55 percent of the respondents from that IDC survey admit to utilizing multiple public clouds.

So, from a CIO perspective, it is a multi-cloud world. The simplest way to explain why is because IT is fundamentally a cost center, so the CIO looks at how many vendors they are writing checks to every month or year. IT manages large portfolios of applications, some of which run best on private cloud due to security concerns or lack of varying demand that would be able to utilize public cloud elasticity to its fullest. Other applications might run best on a particular public cloud and might have publicly facing data and wildly fluctuating audience attention.

Hybrid cloud is for the application developer

For the application developer, however, the atomic unit is not an entire application but a component of one. Think about a modern eCommerce experience, which might have a product catalog, a shopping cart, an authentication scheme, a checkout process, the ability for customers to leave feedback, fulfillment, delivery tracking and a host of other pieces that make up the whole. Modern microservices approaches often lead to components that are far less state dependent upon one another than monolithic applications of the past. That enables a development team to far more easily take advantage of best of breed solutions from different vendors within a single application instead of the entire application residing on one platform or another.

Consider this hybrid cloud world of the developer where the product catalog logic resides on a private cloud, but the product images reside on the AWS Content Delivery Network to improve page load time. Perhaps the team likes the Google Natural Language service to get sentiment analysis of the customer comments but the Azure payment processing system. And maybe, to set it apart from competitors, the team wants to add some voice-based part of the offering and loves IBM Watson’s speech-to-text engine since it worked so well on Jeopardy!

To a developer, thanks largely to the loose coupling that comes along with a microservices mindset, the question is no longer “which cloud?” but being able to pick and choose individual services that are glued together to form a unique application experience.

IT ops is stuck in between

Of course, someone gets stuck with the short straw on these diverging views of utilizing more than one cloud and it has become IT ops. They are given the task of having to manage legacy application deployments that package everything in one place, where that one place will differ greatly across the portfolio of several hundred applications. But they are also asked to reduce the friction on modern microservices application deployments where the number of iterations that a development team can cycle through in a year is the currency of innovation.

As this world where multi cloud and hybrid cloud no longer mean the same thing is emerging, look for tooling vendors to help lighten the load of what is otherwise next to an impossible task for IT ops to balance the needs of these two worlds. Ideally, cloud management platforms will expand feature sets to include microservices applications alongside legacy monoliths so that IT ops has a single place to orchestrate these two worlds that CIOs and developers force them to bounce between.


Pete Johnson is a Technical Solutions Architect at Cisco, covering cloud and serverless technologies. Prior to joining Cisco as part of the CliQr acquisition, Pete worked at Hewlett-Packard for 20 years where he served as the Chief Architect and as an inaugural member of the HP Cloud team.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Pete Johnson and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.