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Cloud computing pools resources that are provisioned and orchestrated on the fly, enabling IT to respond quickly to changing business needs. This kind of flexibility means a clearly defined cloud strategy is now an essential element for every successful IT department. The question is no longer if IT will use the cloud, but instead how it will use it.
Within cloud computing, public resources -- like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure -- exist as off-premises options. Additionally, private resources -- like VMware and Oracle -- can run within existing data centers. The difference between the two is where they are deployed and, generally speaking, who has access. How a company handles these resources -- using either a multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud approach -- reflects the organization's higher-level strategy.
Before we get into the characteristics of multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud, it is important to understand how hybrid cloud differs from hybrid IT, which embraces both cloud computing and traditional IT resources. Hybrid IT adds a single pool of cloud resources to existing physical servers, storage and networking contained within an organization's data center. Hybrid IT is the predominant strategy in the market -- for now -- and is easier to oversee than managing a hybrid cloud.
While some may use hybrid cloud and multi-cloud interchangeably, they actually mean different things. Multi-cloud -- where a company uses more than one cloud provider to deliver services -- reflects the number of clouds with which a business is working. Hybrid cloud, on the other hand, describes how these resources are managed.
By default, every hybrid cloud environment is also a multi-cloud environment, because it encompasses more than one cloud. But that does not mean every multi-cloud environment is necessarily a hybrid cloud environment.
Pros and cons of a multi-cloud strategy
Businesses may choose a multi-cloud strategy for a variety of reasons: Application demands may overwhelm a single provider, while geographic demands necessitate resources in multiple regions. Continuity plans may also require companies to place applications on different clouds to help maintain resiliency.
For whatever the reason, when a business chooses to use more than one cloud provider to deliver its services, it's engaging in a multi-cloud strategy.
Yet, while multi-cloud offers flexibility and choice, it also ushers in complexity. Multi-cloud enables businesses to pick and choose among different cloud options for each application. But there is a downside when managing these applications.
In a multi-cloud world, more time is spent managing service levels, monitoring connectivity across different sites and navigating through the different tool sets that are available.
Hybrid cloud bridges inside-outside deployment
Hybrid cloud strategies use multiple cloud resources, a mix of on premises and off premises. Inside the firewall, some private cloud services will be deployed in the data center, along with the traditional IT equipment. Outside, additional cloud services are available.
It is the combination of internal and external resources that makes this approach a hybrid deployment. The external resources could be public cloud services or virtual private cloud services, as both are hosted off premises. But, in a hybrid cloud, these multiple clouds are managed as one. If the management tool sets are separate, this would be considered multi-cloud.
Businesses may choose hybrid cloud for a variety of reasons, including audience, with users inside and outside the company. Security or privacy may also be a factor, as some data may be too critical to put into a public cloud.
While most companies today focus on a hybrid IT strategy that includes a mix of internal traditional infrastructure with a single external cloud service, over time, expect multi-cloud and hybrid cloud to become more commonplace. This trend will be driven by a growing familiarity among enterprises in using cloud-based services, as well as the availability of more robust cloud management tools designed to ease the deployment of complex environments.