What is multicloud?
Multicloud is a strategy employed by organizations in which two or more cloud service providers or services are used to perform a variety of functions, such as cloud storage, cloud computing, security, or application support. With a multicloud strategy, organizations can provision a combination of public and private clouds (hybrid multicloud), though generally the term multicloud is used among IT professionals to describe the utilization of multiple clouds from different public cloud providers.
As organizations have embraced cloud computing, they are increasingly adopting multicloud environments due to the rise in remote work and the related demand for access to cloud services and apps from anywhere, anytime, off the corporate network. However, a multicloud strategy doesn’t mean a cloud-only strategy. Some organizations opt to keep some functions in the on-premises data center or a private cloud while utilizing multiple cloud service providers for other purposes.
Most often, organizations adopt a multicloud approach that comprises different infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS) providers.
Some examples of public cloud providers are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, ServiceNow, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud. Notable examples of private cloud providers are Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), VMware, Dell, Oracle, and IBM/Red Hat.
A multi-cloud strategy not only provides more flexibility for which cloud services an enterprise chooses to use, it also reduces dependence on a single cloud hosting provider.
Why adopt a multicloud strategy?
Reduced financial risk and cost
The more options an organization has for cloud services, the more they can compare pricing and have the freedom to choose which option works best for their unique business needs. A multicloud deployment can also eliminate the need for setup and maintenance of physical data centers, subsequently reducing cost and freeing up time for the IT team to focus on other priorities. Additionally, having distributed cloud services reduces reliance on one single cloud provider, which can be key to business continuity and reduce the financial impact in the event that a provider is breached or experiences downtime.
Increased security, compliance, and visibility
Distributing workloads over multiple cloud providers and across different locations reduces the chance that an outage or attack will take business-critical functions offline. Having multiple cloud providers also allows for increased visibility for the IT team into shadow IT, which reduces the chance of a breach due to the use of unsanctioned applications. Lastly, a multicloud solution allows for increased compliance with policy and regulatory standards because each cloud infrastructure provider is able to monitor compliance individually.
Improved scale, flexibility, and user experience
A multicloud strategy allows data and applications to reside in multiple locations worldwide, which allows for exponential scalability as business needs grow and change, and provides failover and disaster recovery in the event of a regional outage or natural disaster. Having distributed locations through a multicloud strategy, as opposed to vendor lock-in with a single cloud provider, or a single data center location, also means that data and applications are closer to the user, reducing latency and enhancing the user experience.
What are the challenges of a multicloud strategy?
Though there are many benefits to a multicloud strategy, there are also challenges that can arise with a reduced reliance on legacy technology and the adoption of services from public cloud providers.
First, adopting several separate cloud platforms means that each cloud service provider will have its own set of rules and guidelines, increasing time and complexity for the IT and security teams to manage and monitor each one.
A second challenge comes from growing pains. Adopting different cloud platforms and learning how to manage each one separately will create extra work and effort for IT and security teams for a period of time. Additionally, monitoring each platform separately for security compliance can present a challenge, as it mostly falls on the security team to define controls and policy. Having a patchwork of security controls with management tools from different cloud vendors increases the risk of security gaps.
Stitching together secure connectivity across multiple clouds and your data centers means the challenge grows severalfold, requiring a patchwork of site-to-site VPNs, firewalls, transit gateways, peering policies, and more.
Understanding multicloud management, software-defined perimeter (SDP), and zero trust network access (ZTNA)
Each organization’s needs are different based on varying factors such as team size, business goals, and budget, so there are several options for the management and optimization of a multicloud environment. The first option is allowing the separate cloud service providers to manage and monitor each cloud independently, with internal teams working with each separate cloud vendor and platform. The optimal alternative is adopting a multicloud management platform for security and connectivity, whereas managing separate solutions can pose a business risk due to heterogeneous controls that may not integrate with each other.
Additionally, network-centric security was not built to secure the new, agile world of the cloud, which is why Gartner recommends embracing zero trust network access (ZTNA) technologies. ZTNA, also known as a software-defined perimeter (SDP), enables secure access to private applications across hybrid and multicloud environments, enabling secure cloud adoption.
While there are many aspects to managing multicloud environments, ensuring secure connections for all your users and workflows is a critical requirement. Zscaler Cloud Protection (ZCP), built on top of the cloud-native Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange, provides a comprehensive solution to protect workloads in multicloud environments, including on-premises data centers. ZCP improves workload posture and ensures secure workload communications. ZCP’s Workload Posture capabilities include Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM), Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM), and Cloud Data Loss Prevention (DLP), which apply automation to remediate misconfigurations, remove excessive entitlements, and prevent cloud data loss. Additionally, ZCP’s Workload Communications capabilities protect all workload communications, north-south and east-west, to prevent the spread of malware across your cloud infrastructure. Because ZCP is a unified solution that provides orchestration across all major cloud providers, organizations benefit from consistent security and simpler operations.