Multicloud vs. hybrid cloud: Exactly what is the difference?

Since the advent of cloud computing, there has been a continuous debate about which cloud deployment model is most suitable for organizations. As the cloud computing era matured, there was a consensus about having a hybrid cloud as an optimal solution for most organizations. But recently, a new form of hybrid cloud leveraging multiple types of cloud services has arisen as well — “multicloud.” The confusion between the hybrid cloud and the new deployment model multicloud is compounded by the fact that they’re often used interchangeably. The increasing buzz around the term “multicloud” prompts a reasonable question: Is this just another way of saying “hybrid cloud”? Multicloud is not just a new marketing gimmick, but a different approach toward cloud computing. So, when it comes to multicloud vs. hybrid cloud, here are the key similarities and differences that could help you understand which one to choose.

Hybrid cloud: A composition of private and public clouds

Hybrid clouds are the cloud computing environment that combines on-premises infrastructure (often private clouds) with public clouds. The hybrid cloud comprises of a mix of on-premises systems (or the private cloud) and third-party, public cloud services, with orchestration between the two platforms.

A hybrid cloud is essentially built on top of a virtualization layer, or a hypervisor, which would host the virtual machines (VMs) or containers. IT teams would then plug in the layer of private cloud software on top of the hypervisor to deliver the cloud capabilities like automation and orchestration, self-service, resilience, and billing and chargeback for the offered services.

Hybrid clouds are made up of integrated networking that securely extends the corporate network, creating segmented but single overall network infrastructure. They also have a centralized identity infrastructure that applies across multiple environments. They characterize a persistent and secure high-speed connectivity between the enterprise and the cloud environment. Hybrid cloud provides the ability to connect co-location, managed, and dedicated services with cloud resources while having a unified monitoring and resource management.

Multicloud: The new approach toward clouds

Multicloud is a cloud approach that is made up of more than one cloud service from more than one cloud vendor, including public cloud service providers (like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure) and private cloud service providers (like VMware and Oracle). Multicloud is a form of hybrid cloud, but it’s a specific term used to connote running in multiple different public cloud environments.

Essentially, a multicloud refers to subscription of multiple public cloud services, while a hybrid cloud refers to multiple deployment modes (public, private, or legacy) for the same set of services. Multicloud deployments are usually part of a strategy to avoid vendor lock-ins with a single cloud service provider.

Multiclouds often have multiple identity infrastructure that applies across multiple environments and has an ability to mix delivery mechanisms from SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS. Multiclouds also have support for multiple cloud storage services that are independent of the APIs and interfaces used to access those services. They also have an extensible data workflow engine that supports full data-lifecycle management capabilities effectively.

Businesses may choose a multicloud strategy for a variety of reasons. It may happen that application demands may overwhelm a single provider, while geographic demands necessitate resources in multiple regions. Continuity plans may also require companies to place applications on different clouds to help maintain resiliency.

Similarities

Going by the cloud attributes delivered to the end-users, hybrid and multicloud are very much similar. In fact, every hybrid can be considered as a multicloud, as it comprises more than one cloud. Both the hybrid cloud and multicloud utilizes a mix of clouds based on the organization’s requirements. They have flexibility due to access from multiple clouds and can increase the overall redundancy. In both hybrid cloud and multicloud, data can be shared between clouds, and databases can span clouds. And in either of them, organizations can tailor-out the plans based on their budget requirements.

Another similarity between the two cloud environments is the need for multiple tools for management. Since both environments involve several independent cloud environments, organizations will often require a different set of tools for operational needs, like security management and cost governance and will eventually be required to make investments in the right set of skills and tools.

Differences

By default, every hybrid cloud is also a multicloud, as it also is made up of more than one cloud. But the reverse is not true — it cannot be said that every multicloud is a hybrid cloud. Multicloud and hybrid cloud are closely related, but they’re not the same.

A hybrid cloud always combines private and public clouds, such as an OpenStack private cloud and AWS, whereas, a multicloud always involves two or more public clouds, such as Azure, AWS, and Google. So there are possible scenarios when an organization is using a combination of Google Cloud and Amazon AWS cloud or any other public cloud (thus a multicloud environment). But since there is no private cloud or legacy infrastructure involved, this won’t count as hybrid cloud infrastructure.

In a hybrid cloud, your organization would need security tools and approaches that could work across different public and private clouds simultaneously. In a multicloud, you would require security approaches and tools that could work across multiple public clouds.

In a hybrid cloud, your administrators are required to focus on the native tools for the operational tasks. And every cloud provider has its own set of native tools for the key operational tasks like cloud usage monitoring, cost management, and performance analytics. So, as such, hybrid clouds usually do not require any third-party operational management tools. On the contrary, in the multicloud, your administrators are required to learn the tools that could work across all public clouds and translate the ops functions to the underlying native functions of the public cloud. So, there is more emphasis on having a single tool that could work across several clouds. Overall, in a multicloud world, your admins will spend more time in managing service levels, monitoring connectivity across different sites, and navigating through the different toolsets that are available. With a hybrid cloud, you may get an option to keep the critical data within the infrastructure controlled by you, but in the case of multicloud, data must reside on public clouds. For any organization involved in financial transactions, medical records, or other sensitive data that are bound to follow some policies (PCI DSS or HIPAA), then having a single provider would be considered an additional advantage to minimize the compliance-related risks.

Multicloud vs. hybrid cloud: Pick the right one for you

A clearly defined cloud strategy is an essential element for every successful IT department. So, while planning for cloud adoption for any workload, or while migrating to a new cloud, you must consider various pros and cons associated with the traditional approaches as well as the new practices. Hybrid cloud and multicloud may have similar attributes, but at the operational level, there are several differences. Hybrid clouds require more focus on the native operational tools while multicloud required focus and investment on third-party tools. In a multicloud environment, both the cloud vendor and your organization share the responsibility for the data security, while in a hybrid cloud, you have more responsibility as well as control over the data and its security. Also, every cloud has its own benefits and drawbacks, along with associated price tags. Doing a performance analysis of the existing workloads against the service offerings provided by each public cloud can help get an idea of the total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI) and thus selecting the right choice for your organization.

Featured image: Pixabay

Twain Taylor

My interests lie in DevOps, IoT, and cloud applications. I began my career in tech B2B marketing at Google India, after which I headed marketing for multiple startups. Today, I consult with companies in The Valley on their content marketing initiatives, and write for tech journals.

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