Multi-cloud is here to stay, whether AWS, Google and Microsoft like it or not

Those paying close attention have noticed a subtle shift in the cloud market in recent years. The big three cloud providers have quietly hopped aboard the multi-cloud train – and for good reason. While Gartner VP Sid Nag told Silverlinings he doesn’t expect the number of applications requiring multi-cloud services to be that large, the capability has become a must-have in conversations with the enterprise.

While Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud all offer multi-cloud tools, these are rarely touted publicly. Why?

“There’s a revenue issue, a market share issue and a perception issue,” Nag explained. “No cloud provider wants to give the perception to its buyers that multi-cloud is a good thing. They’ll never do that publicly. But they will support multi-cloud because when customers demand it, they say ‘yeah, we have that capability, you can use it.’”

That said, if you dig a little deeper there are different attitudes toward multi-cloud depending on the provider.

AWS and multi-cloud hostility

AWS declined to comment for this story. But the company has a history of being hostile toward multi-cloud. That began to change in 2019 and AWS finally made the leap into multi-cloud in 2020. Since then, the company has covertly introduced a litany of multi-cloud products. These include AWS Systems Manager and AWS Config, which allow clients to automate processes, remediate operational issues and monitor configuration changes across cloud environments; Amazon CloudWatch, with its holistic view of multi-cloud infrastructure and applications; OpenSearch for analytics and real-time application monitoring; AWS Glue to meld together different data sets; and AWS DataSync which lets clients move data between AWS, other clouds and on-premises systems.

Microsoft and Google – more multi-cloud friendly?

Microsoft and Google, for their part, seem more multi-cloud friendly – or at least they want to appear that way.

A Microsoft spokesperson told Silverlinings that Azure was built “to be hybrid by design” and the company was an early leader in multi-cloud with the introduction of Azure Arc in 2019. Arc, as the name implies, “acts as a bridge to extend the Azure platform to a customer’s preferred environment.” This just so happens to address an issue Microsoft identified as one of the biggest challenges for multi-cloud deployments: the need for a consistent experience across environments.

“Many of Azure’s largest customers use Azure Arc in multi-cloud environments today to achieve a single control plane for security, governance, observability and compliance across cloud platforms,” the representative wrote via email.

Google Cloud likewise jumped into multi-cloud in 2019 with the debut of Anthos. Bobby Allen, cloud therapist at Google, told Silverlinings additional offerings in this space include BigQuery, Looker and Apigee. He added multi-cloud is a focal point in nearly all conversations with customers and “Google Cloud is committed to a long-term, open, multi-cloud approach that helps partners and customers build their own multi-cloud businesses to address this demand.”

Last month, a report from 451 Research commissioned by Oracle found 98% of 1,500 enterprises surveyed were or were planning to use at least two cloud infrastructure providers. Nearly a third were using four or more. That compares to the 49% of enterprise customers which Gartner said had a multi-cloud strategy in 2017.

Multi-cloud drivers

According to Nag, multi-cloud has gained steam over the past three to four years as the types of applications clients have in the cloud have changed. Some of the first workloads to move to the cloud were relatively simple tools like email, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. But as confidence in the cloud has grown, so has the complexity of the applications clients are looking to run there. Increasingly, these include latency-sensitive mission-critical applications.

That, rather than general demand, is what’s really driving the multi-cloud push as enterprises look for best-in-class capabilities for a subset of use cases, Nag said. And this trend isn’t going to go away, mostly because of the rapid pace of technology evolution and the fact that one cloud provider will always be better at something than the others.

Allen agreed multi-cloud is “here to stay.” But it can get a bit messy if enterprises don’t plan properly.

“There is sometimes a lack of planning, and teams will sometimes decide they want to run an application in a certain cloud – or multiple – without a coordinated strategy,” he explained. “Additionally, sometimes people have unrealistic expectations around what multi-cloud means. This will happen if someone tries to run one app in multiple clouds, and that can cause issues because running components of one app in different places almost never works.”

All in all, it doesn’t seem like the big cloud providers have all that much to worry about when it comes to miltu-cloud, and in fact most stand to benefit from it. Will market share shift a bit due to multi-cloud? Sure, Nag said. But revenue will continue to increase. That’s because while individual providers might end up with a smaller share of the pie, the pie as a whole will grow.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that a large bulk of the applications and workloads that are moving to the cloud will be multi-cloud,” he said. “But there will be some very specific use cases and applications that will drive the need for multi-cloud.”

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