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Understanding the potential benefits and pitfalls of multi-cloud storage

Since the beginning of the modern cloud era (circa 2007), many prophesied the concept of multi-cloud storage deployments. It’s taken over a decade for the technology and the need to catch up to the crystal ball readers, driven by the desire for data analytics, machine learning and data sovereignty.

At the core, each needs to be able to manage data that can live in multiple clouds. But, in order to realize the multi-cloud benefit, more expansive thinking about data protection is required.

A multi-cloud model uses different clouds for different tasks, meaning data typically remains in its “own” cloud's silo. The growing enterprise adoption of multi-cloud strategies represents a shift in mindset – enterprises are deciding that it is they, not the cloud providers, who need to be in control of their infrastructure.

Benefits of multi-cloud storage

In each use case, the benefits of multi-cloud storage are based on a handful of key concepts. Competition between cloud storage providers will keep pricing “in check,” so the enterprise IT buyer can negotiate the best value for their IT budget.

Cloud providers are also starting to differentiate their offerings from each other with sophisticated analytics, machine learning and other value add tools. But, in order for enterprises to take advantage of these capabilities, they require storing data in the respective cloud near where the processing takes place.

Rather than adopting a single cloud for all business applications, a multi-cloud infrastructure prevents a business-wide breach due to the separation of applications. When these applications are separated, potential damage and downtime from a network attack is minimized and contained, allowing disaster recovery to be more efficient and targeted.

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Light trails from network switches illuminate fiber optic cables, center, and copper Ethernet cables inside a communications room at an office in London, U.K., on Monday, May 21, 2018. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport will work with the Home Office to publish a white paper later this year setting out legislation, according to a statement, which will also seek to force tech giants to reveal how they target abusive and illegal online material posted by users. Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

Most organizations employ multiple cloud providers because they believe different platforms have different strengths and that security is improved through the use of more than one public cloud service provider. Multi-cloud strategy allows for the separation of various business applications, including security and databases.

Businesses should consider a multi-cloud storage strategy to diversify storage assets across multiple cloud providers. In doing so, companies benefit from cost-savings, data durability, access to specialized data analytics services and avoiding vendor lock-in.

Multi-cloud allows the customer to choose the best cost solutions depending on the use case. Typical cloud services such as email, CRM, support, accounting and expense management represent the various use cases. Within each segment, there are many providers to compare and contrast. Many organizations weigh cloud licensing options by usage, hourly or unlimited subscriptions, giving them a better understanding of how to utilize these options for greater cost control.

Deciding when it’s time to implement

Multi-cloud is relevant to any business that wants to ensure that their data remains in a specific geopolitical region for compliance purposes. Companies often use one cloud for their primary activity and want to take advantage of specialized machine learning and data analytics capabilities from another cloud vendor. Additionally, regulated businesses with compliance requirements and government organizations and nonprofits may need to consider a multi-cloud strategy to satisfy auditors’ needs for data durability.

To get started, enterprises should evaluate storage gateway services which support multiple cloud locations. These gateways simplify the complexity of managing multiple cloud locations and ensure best practice policies for encryption and access control are in place.

A simple way to start is to identify a smaller storage workload already stored on one cloud and use a desktop software tool to copy the data to another vendor’s cloud. Choose a workload deemed important because of the content and a reason to have a copy preserved across multiple vendors.

There is no one size fits all advice for determining when to adopt multi-cloud. Many organizations will be successful with a single cloud vendor, utilizing that vendor’s different physical regions to achieve “inter-multi-cloud” resiliency. For example, an AWS customer can use US-East and US-West regions to achieve some measure of multi-cloud storage without leaving the world of AWS.

In multi-cloud and hybrid environments, centralized management is critical. Users should look for vendors that can provide a common management scheme – either in their solutions or using public cloud security infrastructures to simplify managing and monitoring ongoing security.

Measuring success

Return on investment is specific to each company’s use. It’s not easy to generalize when payback will occur, and it can often be earned indirectly. With DRaaS (Disaster Recovery as a Service) situations, when using multiple cloud vendors for storing data, the payback may only be realized when a disaster occurs and the secondary copy of data is needed to recover.

Different cloud platforms are more suitable for specific applications, so organizations may consider “matching” cloud offerings to the applications they are driving to the cloud. Examples include cloud service G-Suite and Google Drive for email and file storage and cloud service Salesforce for CRM. The data stays siloed and the customer has chosen a multi-cloud approach.

Pitfalls to avoid

In multi-cloud environments, all solution roll-outs must be compatible with every cloud within the environment, which can be difficult to achieve without enough time or money at one’s disposal.

One of the primary network defense applications, a firewall, is not easily scalable to a multi-cloud strategy, and must be individually tailored for each cloud. Very few firewalls have evolved to address the scaling concerns raised by the adoption of multi-cloud infrastructure.

Using multiple providers inevitably complicates the cloud landscape. With multiple infrastructures becoming commonplace, organizations will soon need to look at third parties that can operate inside multiple infrastructures – or their overall IT landscape complexity will grow dramatically, decreasing some of the cloud’s most obvious benefits.

It’s an exciting and scary time to be adopting cloud storage. Cloud storage can increase innovation and expedite the time to value for IT projects, and the new pricing model allows for companies to pay only for what they use. Due to the value of company data, this excitement brings increased awareness about protecting one’s cloud storage footprint. New solutions continue to emerge to fill this void.

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