The past few years have seen remarkable progress in the public cloud arena, with adoption rates soaring and impressive maturity of its managed services. Now, with Microsoft and Google stepping up to compete with AWS, the once uncontested market leader, the pace of innovation has never been greater.
While the single-cloud vendor model still dominates the market, both major corporations and smaller companies are opting for hybrid and multicloud strategies—though their motivations for doing so are often misguided. For example, hybrid or multicloud adopters often argue that the public cloud is not secure enough to store systems and data. Heads up, folks—unless your company is investing more money in security than Google, Microsoft, or AWS, this argument is invalid.
More important to consider is this: With the number of innovative managed services being released today and the increasing adoption of serverless across industries, is hybrid cloud the strategy your organization should pursue? In this article, we will look closer at the similarities and differences between the latest hybrid cloud solutions released by public cloud vendors.
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The hybrid cloud model employs both on-premises and cloud resources, orchestrating workloads between the two. Related to this is the multicloud approach, which—as the name suggests—uses two or more public cloud providers, allowing engineering teams to leverage both to address their specific needs, but typically steers clear of on-premise infrastructure or private clouds. More on this below.
Beginning at the end of 2018 and throughout 2019, several new services aimed specifically at customers with hybrid or multicloud architectures were released.
Introducing Anthos, Arc, and Outposts
Traditionally, AWS has steered away from launching services to assist customers running and managing on-premises workloads. Instead, the cloud platform fostered a public-cloud-only approach and dedicated their resources toward helping businesses migrate to the public cloud. Their AWS Outposts launch announcement at re:Invent 2018 thus came as a total surprise.
In addition, two separate announcements issued in early 2019 made headlines, as they marked important milestones in hybrid and multicloud technology adoption. First, Google Cloud Platform introduced Anthos, followed by Microsoft Azure’s release of Arc—both targeting customers opting for the hybrid or multicloud approach.
The concept of AWS Outposts, geared toward customers with hybrid cloud architectures, is rather simple. The service enables customers to use AWS compute and storage services (AWS EC2 and EBS) within their own data centers but with hardware provided by AWS.
Google Cloud Anthos
With Google Cloud Anthos, customers can take advantage of their existing on-premises or public cloud investments by allowing them to modernize their applications and run them anywhere. At its core, Anthos uses the Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and other existing GCP services to provide an easy hybrid pathway and familiar development experience for engineering teams already using Google Cloud.
Microsoft Azure Arc
Microsoft Azure Arc allows customers to simplify the use of different environments by extending Azure management capabilities to any infrastructure, regardless of its location. By using Kubernetes, Azure Arc provides the ability to deploy and manage container-based applications. However, Azure Arc can also organize other types of resources, such as Windows and Linux services.
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Similarities and Differences
Google Cloud Anthos and Microsoft Azure Arc have fairly similar technical approaches; they both leverage Kubernetes and containers to provide a seamless experience anywhere—on-premises, in their own public cloud platform, or in a competitor’s cloud.
AWS Outposts, on the other hand, focuses solely on the on-premises use cases. Moreover, by using hardware provided by AWS itself, Outposts effectively prevents multicloud scenarios and even the use of your own hardware. The latter can be particularly challenging for enterprises heavily invested in their own compute and storage hardware, since they’re unlikely to replace it with AWS custom hardware. However, for companies with smaller hardware footprints that require on-premises workloads, Outposts may simplify the overall governance of their IT strategies by providing a holistic view and management of resources.
There are a couple of interesting differences between Google’s and Microsoft’s new offerings, though. While Kubernetes is implemented in both, its use is optional in Azure Arc, which also supports edge computing environments that enable customers to deploy in any infrastructure.
In Anthos, on the other hand, Kubernetes is a core part of the tool. It even goes as far as to provide additional tools for converting virtual and bare-metal workloads to containers. This enables them to run in Google Kubernetes Engine, and, therefore, on Anthos. Moreover, in late 2019, AWS showed their commitment to creating a superior managed Kubernetes experience for their customers by providing a way to run Kubernetes serverless.
Explaining the Sudden Popularity of Hybrid and Multicloud Solutions
In 2019 alone, the three biggest public cloud providers spoke publicly about on-premises services and enabling customers to use competing cloud services.
As I see it, there are three main reasons these top cloud providers have decided to launch these services now.
Cloud technology has matured in a way few would have predicted, even just a few years ago. Cloud managed services are robust, easy to use, accessible, and flexible (thanks to the pay-as-you-go model). They have thus become the preferred choice among engineering teams, establishing cloud as today’s norm.
Over the past few years, technologies such as containers and container orchestration (i.e., Docker and Kubernetes), FaaS, API management, and object storage have become widely popular, with large communities supporting them—regardless of which cloud vendor provides them.
Late Cloud Adoption by Enterprises
A large percentage of enterprises—especially in traditional, non-tech industries such as manufacturing, health, retail, automotive, and banking—are lagging behind when it comes to cloud adoption. While many have taken steps toward shifting their workloads into the cloud, their cloud technology strategy and governance is often undefined, complex, and highly dependent on their existing IT investments and on-premises workloads. Even if cloud-only is on their horizon, they often opt for a hybrid or multicloud strategy, seeing this as a stepping stone.
AWS Market Share
Historically, AWS has been a pioneer in the world of the public cloud, maintaining dominance and a huge market share. However, Google and Microsoft are now showing rapid growth in the cloud business. Switching cloud providers is not an easy decision. Recognizing this, these companies have made the strategic move to promote services that lower the barrier for trying out their services. To this end, hybrid and multicloud solutions are perfect trial services and a sure way to help Google and Microsoft acquire new customers.
Choosing the Right Cloud Strategy
A coherent technology strategy and governance is paramount to effective cloud adoption. There are a number of approaches organizations can take in their cloud journeys, each with its advantages and disadvantages.
Cloud-First and Single Provider
One of the most popular approaches is a cloud-first strategy that uses a single public cloud provider. It enables customers to leverage all of the services the provider has to offer and minimizes the complexity by eliminating the need to deal with different tooling for each environment.
This approach works well when developing new applications from the ground up but is far more complicated to implement for existing and well-established on-premises applications. Depending on the complexity of the existing environments, a cloud-first state can be achieved after a certain transition period during which a hybrid-cloud approach may be required. One of the drawbacks of the single-provider strategy is the inherent vendor lock-in. If this is a pain point for your organization, consider having a solid fixed-term exit plan in place and choosing services that enable a more friendly transition.
Hybrid and Multicloud
Frequently, companies will opt for a hybrid and multicloud strategy due to the fear of vendor lock-in when using a single provider. While this is certainly a legitimate fear, it shouldn’t be a decisive factor.
Moreover, both hybrid and multicloud strategies come with their own pitfalls. While cloud providers offer benefits and better pricing due to their ability to make massive investments in hardware at a lower price, because hybrid and multicloud strategies often force you to use the “lowest common denominator” services that your multiple cloud providers share (such as basic compute and storage), you may be unable to access those better pricing models. You can’t always leverage the best of what each cloud provider has to offer, and you might miss out on the chance to implement the ideal services for your environment. Developers often end up acquiring an increasing number of cross-cloud competencies in an attempt to stay up-to-date with the latest features of each provider.
In light of this, what then would be good use cases for hybrid or multicloud strategies? The most common example here is data locality, where business motivations, such as compliance or a strict client requirement, dictate that your data or workloads be in a particular location and where your main cloud provider does not have a presence.
Another scenario in which hybrid or multicloud may be preferred is if your main cloud provider lacks certain technical capabilities that would thus justify moving part of your environment to a different cloud provider. An example of this was Salesforce’s decision to move its Marketing Cloud to Microsoft Azure in order to take advantage of certain SQL Server capabilities.
Without proper planning, hybrid and multicloud strategies can prevent you from taking full advantage of public cloud benefits, such as price reductions based on volume or the ability to leverage most managed services.
Services like Anthos, Arc, and Outposts, however, are great additions to the wide array of options available to public cloud customers. When used carefully and correctly, companies that were once lagging behind can make huge leaps toward cloud adoption. These services also provide a holistic development experience to engineering teams with hybrid architectures. Nonetheless, keep in mind that there are no silver bullets, and you should definitely do your homework before jumping into any of these solutions.
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