Differences Between Hybrid Cloud and Multi-cloud — And Which Is Right for Your Business

When considering whether to use a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud approach, there is no one “best” solution, and any decision should be revisited periodically.
December 31, 2021
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In this era of digital transformation, a lot of buzzwords get thrown around. You may have heard some related to cloud computing, especially “multi-cloud” and “hybrid cloud.” The definitions aren’t complicated. Multi-cloud means using multiple cloud services to run a variety of company operations, while hybrid cloud means using a combination of on-premises or private cloud resources and third-party cloud services. 

What is complicated, however, are the use cases for each one. When does it make sense to use a multi-cloud versus a hybrid cloud approach? Can you use both? What does it take to set up a hybrid cloud environment? There are no easy answers to these questions, but below we provide some basics that can help you decide what’s right for your company and situation. 

What Is Multi-cloud?

The multi-cloud approach involves using 2 or more cloud computing platforms or providers to support various business operations. “For example,” according to TechTarget, “a business might employ a public cloud provider’s IaaS to host its workloads. At the same time, it could use specialized SaaS or PaaS providers for business services such as productivity tools (Office 365), employee expense tracking and reporting (Concur), and so on….” 

Some benefits of this approach are as follows:

  • Improved cost management. With cloud services, you only pay for what you use. This strategy differs from companies hosting their own infrastructure, which entails purchasing equipment that may or may not be used to its full capacity. Many organizations appreciate the pay-as-you-go model because they gain insight into specific costs for specific operations. 
  • Reduced infrastructure hassle. In addition to the potential for wasted cost on equipment that doesn’t end up being used, on-premises infrastructure requires additional staff to operate, maintain, and upgrade it. Many companies prefer to shed these hassles and opt for cloud solutions instead. 
  • Stronger resilience. Multiple cloud environments can be used to create redundant workloads, ensuring the ongoing operations necessary to avoid compliance problems. Those redundant workloads also make sure that customers are better served, and operations can continue even in the face of disruption. 
  • Enhanced services. Some cloud providers specialize in certain types of operations, such as testing and development versus artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). You can use each service to support specific operations based on its strengths. 

The following video describes additional benefits of the multi-cloud approach:

The multi-cloud approach also involves some disadvantages:

  • Security risks. While data may be safe when hosted by a cloud service provider, it may encounter risks when coming back and forth to your network. Additionally, with a multi-cloud approach, you must manage a number of different security configurations. 
  • Regulatory issues. A multi-cloud approach can help you achieve better compliance with regulatory entities. However, it also has the potential to reduce your compliance if your data is stored improperly. 
  • Potential for disruption. Cloud service providers aren’t immune to some of the threats you face with your on-premises infrastructure, including weather events and hacking. You could also face problems if you encounter internet issues that prevent you from accessing your provider, or if the provider is acquired or goes out of business. 

What Is a Hybrid Cloud? 

A hybrid cloud strategy involves using both public cloud resources and some combination of a private cloud and on-premises infrastructure. TechTarget offers an example of a use case for this approach: “A business might create a private cloud to support self-service resource provisioning for software developers, or run an important cloud-native application locally. The business can also connect that private cloud to a public cloud to gain extra resources or use specialized services.” 

Note that a hybrid cloud can be used in a multi-cloud environment. 

As with the multi-cloud approach, a hybrid cloud strategy provides many benefits:

  • Flexibility. A hybrid approach provides a high degree of business flexibility. For example, you can run some workloads on local infrastructure and others on third-party cloud platforms based on regulatory requirements. You can also shift between systems based on cost-effectiveness. 
  • Scalability. Rather than buying more hardware for those rare occasions when you need it, you can run your operations to capacity, then manage overflow with cloud services. That scalability allows you to respond quickly to new opportunities, market changes, or customer demands. 
  • Remote access. As companies continue to offer work-from-home options for employees, they must ensure those workers can access the tools they need. A hybrid cloud arrangement enables remote team members to access on-premises data and applications. 

The hybrid cloud approach also involves some challenges:

  • Potential for disruption. As with the multi-cloud approach, the hybrid cloud strategy is subject to the disruption of cloud services providers
  • High costs. The development of hybrid cloud systems is time-consuming and can be costly compared to other approaches. (However, once established, they can help contain costs.)
  • Integration issues. One of the biggest challenges of using both private and public cloud resources is integrating the 2. Additionally, you must keep up with and match updates from your cloud services providers. 
  • Lack of skills. Building and maintaining a hybrid cloud system requires specific skills that not all companies have among their staff. 

Which One Is Best? 

When considering whether to use a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud approach, there is no one “best” solution, and any decision should be revisited periodically. The key to making a good decision is understanding the strengths of each approach and following up with careful planning prior to implementation. 

The right approach will be the one that most closely aligns with your business and technology needs. Having stated that, some general guidelines are to choose a multi-cloud approach when you need the resources of specific cloud services providers, and choose a hybrid cloud approach when you require the flexibility of having both types of cloud at your disposal.

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