IT Companies Talk About Multi-Cloud, but Don't Define What They Mean

NEWS ANALYSIS: While many IT companies are talking about multi-cloud technology and announcing products to support it, few clearly describe what it means.

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Just as we are starting to get comfortable with the concept of hybrid cloud with real products and platforms, another cloud paradigm is upon us: the multi-cloud.

Like AI in the news, "multi-cloud" announcements are everywhere these days. This week multi-cloud was invoked on two key IT news announcements. The first was private cloud provider Mirantis announcing the return of Adrian Ionel as CEO.

The company that built its business around deploying OpenStack is now trying to help its customers along a "multi-cloud journey" that involves DevOps life cycle management and continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD).

The second news item was Cisco's release of a major upgrade to HyperFlex, its software stack for hyperconverged computing, which adds support for containers, Hyper-V and, of course, "multi-cloud services."

While multi-cloud announcements are coming fast and furious, few really describe what multi-cloud means. One way to look at multi-cloud is as the logical next step in the cloud technology hype cycle. As more companies make the move to cloud, they are learning that some applications work well in one environment, while others work better, or cost less, in another.

In that respect, many users are already in a multi-cloud world. Any business that runs software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications is in the cloud now. Throw in some AWS or Azure services or even Dropbox for backup storage, and that business is multi-cloud.

But is that the real definition of multi-cloud? No, because multi-cloud has to be about more than just spreading data and applications all over the internet, which has been a problem in the form of "shadow IT" and can be a recipe for disaster.

Vendors are certainly pushing their concept of multi-cloud, even if customers are not all the way there yet. Red Hat defines multi-cloud as "the presence of more than one cloud deployment of the same type … sourced from different vendors." Red Hat also counts "applications deployed to two or more clouds concurrently to add resiliency."

To Mirantis' Ionel, multi-cloud is about more than just managing applications running on somebody else's servers. Cloud is an operational and deployment model that requires a common abstraction layer between the different environments.

Since moving beyond its OpenStack-centric focus in the last year, Mirantis has invested in Kubernetes as an orchestration layer, and also in its DriveTrain product, a life cycle management and CI/CD tool, which Ionel calls the "auto pilot" for cloud applications.

"Kubernetes by itself and its ecosystem is not the complete answer [to managing multi-cloud]," he said. "The answer is giving enterprises what they need, which is cloud native continuous delivery, to deploy applications on any cloud, anywhere."

That gets closer to the ideal of what multi-cloud should be. However it is defined, the fact is that multi-cloud, or multiple cloud providers, will become necessary for most businesses over time. But, at this point, should businesses start working with multiple clouds while many are still getting comfortable with one?

Probably not. The multi-cloud concept right now is a work in progress. Everyone, including Red Hat, Mirantis, VMware and the Big 5 in the U.S. (AWS, Azure, Google, IBM and Oracle), is fighting to get workloads migrated to their private/hybrid/public cloud environments. Getting them all to work together in a seamless multi-cloud is probably asking for too much.

But smart IT managers should not discount the idea of multi-cloud. They should be thinking about how to spread applications around to multiple providers, but it must be done in an organized manner. And much work still must be done to develop services and tools that enable effective management of multiple cloud environments.

Remember, it's still very early in the cloud evolution. Total worldwide cloud spending this year figures to be about 8 percent of overall IT spending, according to Gartner. As more workloads work their way to the cloud, multi-cloud options will become clearer.

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...