Hybrid Cloud vs. Multi-Cloud: What’s the Difference?

Published October 27, 2020 by 3 min read

A Brief Cloud History

In the beginning, there was “The Cloud”. It was nebulous but we understood what the point of it was. The cloud was an elastic service that provided us with compute, storage, and networking capabilities when we needed them and as much of them as we needed. As cloud computing evolved, so did specializations. Large organizations like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) created massive cloud environments, not just for themselves, but for the use of the public, for a fee. 

The “big three” became what we now know as a public cloud, which gave us a new definition of the different types of clouds. Not everyone was ready to give over control of infrastructure to the public clouds. Many wanted to keep some semblance of the old way of doing things and continue to have private data centers, either hosted on-premises or in a co-location. However, the lure of the cloud became stronger as a new wave of application developers began creating cloud-first applications. 

The pressure from business leaders was real for information technology teams and many began to dip their toes in the cloud waters with a hybrid approach. Some workloads, usually development or test, started their organization’s journey into the cloud. With applications and infrastructure now in two places, orchestration between the two became important. Hybrid Cloud was born. 

As cloud technology adoption increased, so did organizations that wanted complete flexibility. Not only did they want cloud presence, but they also wanted it with, for example, both Azure and AWS. Organizations embracing several cloud services (both private and public) pioneered the multi-cloud movement.

Now that we have a basic understanding of the common cloud approaches, what are the differences between them?

The Hybrid Cloud Difference

When it comes to hybrid cloud, there are typically physical data center locations you control as well as a public cloud. Between the public and private cloud exists an orchestration layer. The orchestration component is what allows workloads to seamlessly move from one place to another. Organizations find this flexibility useful as it can be more expensive to run a workload in the public cloud vs. a private cloud, but the elasticity of the public cloud solution is necessary for a variety of reasons, a good example being a spike in application traffic. Note that maintaining security and compliance in the hybrid cloud requires hybrid cloud security solutions.

Why Multi-Cloud?

There is a common misconception that when someone is talking about a multi-cloud strategy, they are referring to multiple public cloud providers. The facts are, multi-cloud is generally recognized as having Azure, AWS, and/or GCP as well as private cloud infrastructure. There are other minor players for a public cloud option such as IBM which provides a different cloud option, but most developers develop applications and workloads for the larger cloud providers. 

Why do many organizations leverage multi-cloud environments?

  • Risk reduction—just like having multiple internal service providers to a data center for disaster recovery
  • Departmental preferences in large organizations
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Features—not all features may be available for each cloud vendor: Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Platform as a service (PaaS), Software as a service (Saas)
  • Mitigation of vendor lock-in

What did we learn?

A multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud comparison shows us that the two have many common elements. However, the terminology differs depending on how the speaker looks at cloud computing. Multi-cloud is generally recognized as having Azure, AWS, and/or GCP as well as private cloud infrastructure. Some look at multi-cloud as only multiple public clouds but it all depends on what one considers “cloud”. When it comes to hybrid cloud, there are typically physical data center locations you control as well as a public cloud. The orchestration is what most focus on to enable a true hybrid cloud environment. Overall, cloud computing has changed the way organizations provide services to customers, regardless of how many clouds are being leveraged.

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