As more and more businesses look for ways to take better advantage of the services offered by different cloud providers, many organizations are finding that a single cloud provider simply can’t meet all of their business needs. For this reason, many businesses are exploring what’s called a multi-cloud approach.

Today almost every company uses various types of data and various applications – but most cloud vendors only specialize in one area. Using a multi-cloud approach means using multiple platforms in your cloud environment to meet all your data storage and application needs.

Ultimately this approach gives organizations more flexibility, functionality, and resiliency. For instance, you might store your highly available apps in one cloud solution, and highly sensitive data in another, more secure environment. This lets you be more confident that your most important assets are most secure, while less-critical data or applications are still readily available.

What Is a Multi-Cloud Approach?

For most organizations, a multi-cloud approach means using multiple public cloud providers for a variety of services. The public cloud originated with the “big three” cloud providers: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). They created massive cloud environments that provide computing, storage, and networking capabilities to other organizations via the Internet.

At the introduction of the public cloud, however, many organizations didn’t feel immediately comfortable using and trusting public cloud providers. To retain some sense of control, many opted to use private data centers, either hosted on-premises or in a co-location site. Today this practice is known as private cloud computing.

But as cloud technology adoption continued to increase, businesses wanted even more flexibility. Hence the hybrid cloud model was born. In a hybrid cloud environment, development and testing is often done on-premises or in a private cloud, and routine services are delivered via the public cloud.

Eventually some organizations took things further and embraced several cloud services, both private and public. Today this model of cloud computing is called a multi-cloud approach. A recent Gartner survey of public cloud users revealed that 81 percent of respondents say they are working with two or more cloud providers.

For most organizations, using multiple public cloud service providers is a way to avoid vendor lock-in – that is, being saddled with a contracted vendor that can no longer meet your business needs.

So why haven’t all businesses already made the move to a multi-cloud environment?

For starters, a multi-cloud approach requires a well conceived strategy, which takes time, effort, and money. Strategizing for the multi-cloud means reflecting on your business needs and deciding which vendors align with each one. This includes creating a multi-cloud architecture that takes into consideration which applications are best suited to each cloud provider.

If you haven’t started the cloud migration process, developing a multi-cloud strategy might seem overwhelming. For these organizations, starting with a single-cloud approach and then expanding to multiple platforms will be the easiest route. That said, organizations that were apprehensive about cloud computing will still need to get over the hurdles that might be preventing them from fully transitioning to the cloud.

In this article we’ll examine the benefits and drawbacks of using a multi-cloud approach to help you determine whether it’s the best cloud model for your business. Then we’ll take a closer look at some of the things you can do to develop a multi-cloud strategy that’s designed to meet the specific needs of your organization.

Why Use a Multi-Cloud Strategy?

First let’s take a look at some of the benefits that come along with using a multi-cloud strategy.

Increased Vendor Flexibility

The biggest and most obvious benefit of using a multi-cloud approach is that you aren’t subject to vendor lock-in. Simply put, using multi-cloud environments means that you aren’t putting all your cloud eggs in one cloud basket.

For instance, if your single-cloud vendor suddenly changes its strategy, service level agreements (SLAs), or pricing model, you’re subject to these changes without much wiggle room. Using a multi-cloud approach allows you to maintain your negotiating power, and gives you better control over your data.

Using a mix of vendors will let you avoid any such scenarios where you might need to change your cloud computing platform in response to a change by your cloud service provider – a process that’s time-consuming, expensive, and risky.

Increased vendor flexibility also means increasing your shared ownership of risk among cloud providers. This can be a benefit for organizations that have a thorough understanding of what data protection each cloud service provides and what security controls the organization still needs to handle in-house, but it can also be a potential drawback if you make the mistake of relying on your cloud service provider’s security measures alone.

In general, your cloud server platforms will secure the cloud environment against cyber attacks, but leave data security up to you. Any data loss you might suffer in a security breach is your responsibility. For this reason, you should consider adding firewalls and other controls in addition to testing your system on a regular basis.

Improved Disaster Recovery

Multi-cloud approaches also allow for better backups. If you’re storing your data across multiple cloud platforms, you have more options when a disruption occurs.

For instance, should one of your cloud providers experience any downtime or an outage, you can rely on your other providers to keep your data safe and accessible in the meantime. At the same time, a well-thought out multi-cloud strategy gives you a clearly defined and documented process that outlines what to do should a disruption to your cloud computing occur.

The backup procedures and processes in your disaster recovery plan should include a section for restoring data for both on-premises data centers and any cloud data your organization uses.

Tailored Cloud Services

As we mentioned before, no single cloud service provider has the best services for everything. A multi-cloud approach lets you tailor your cloud services to your needs, however specific they might be. Some organizations might even consider dedicating an entire cloud service to a single process in their workflow.

On the other hand, if your organization operates in banking or medicine, any cloud service you employ must also be compliant with the heavy regulatory compliance obligations for your industry. Because compliance is not guaranteed, it’s up to you to make sure the cloud service providers you select are able to meet your industry’s regulatory requirements.

Decreased Expenditures

The data centers that come along with private cloud computing ultimately require a lot of infrastructure, hardware, and even power supplies. These are expensive. The more of them you have, the less capital you have to run other business operations.

Moving to the cloud, regardless of which cloud type you choose, will free up the capital expenditures required for maintaining – and scaling – on-premise data centers in favor of more flexible operations expenditures.

Disadvantages to a Multi-Cloud Approach

While the benefits of a multi-cloud environment often outweigh the drawbacks, some disadvantages are important to consider.

First and foremost, moving to a new system is daunting in itself. For organizations that are already apprehensive about migrating to the cloud, the idea of handing their data over to multiple unknown entities is too risky a move.

If you do decide to opt for a multi-cloud approach, you need to be aware that it’s often a more involved process than traditional single-cloud approaches. For this reason, it’s important to have people on board who understand the various structures. You’ll probably need to hire multiple employees to fill these positions, as it’s uncommon for a single person to be familiar with every single cloud interface.

You’ll want to be careful about who you hire, as multi-cloud environments pose a significant amount of risk relating to your employees. Staff members will need individual logins and passwords for access to each cloud platform, and this creates more points of vulnerability (especially if your employees are using weak or duplicate passwords).

Sometimes staff members themselves can be the origin of data breaches. While insider threats are frequently overlooked, it’s important to consider both the intentional and unintentional ways in which your employees pose risk to your organization.

You can start by determining which members of your staff need access to your company’s data centers, and at what level. The principle of least privilege means limiting access control to a need-to-know basis, which minimizes entry points and helps you track any potential insider breaches back to the source.

You should also regularly educate your staff about data security practices. This includes informing employees about your security policies and the importance of secure passwords, multi-factor authentication, and endpoint protection.

Now that we’ve examined some of the benefits and drawbacks of using a multi-cloud approach, you probably have a better idea of whether or not it’s right for your business. If a multi-cloud approach is something you’re ready to implement, it’s time to consider how your organization can create a strategy that’s best for your business and your bottom line.

Is a Multi-Cloud Strategy Right For You?

Despite the challenges that come with adopting a multi-cloud strategy, the advantages ultimately outweigh the disadvantages for many organizations. Still, not all clouds are not created equal, and it will be up to you to match the best platform to your service requirements.

Some businesses may opt to adopt a different mix of traditional and cloud services to achieve their goals, but ultimately the success of your cloud computing environment will depend on how well you’re able to plan for it.

A good multi-cloud strategy must be well-planned and mapped to your business needs. Indeed, the planning phase of your strategy might easily take longer than the implementation phase.

Choosing the right cloud and provider means matching each application’s requirements to what each cloud computing platform offers for features, services, and technical requirements. For many organizations with a multi-cloud strategy, this means running each application in a single cloud.

Choosing the right cloud for each workload shouldn’t be too difficult. To make better and more educated decisions, begin by attempting to understand the technical requirements for each application and cloud service provider. Oftentimes you’ll find that public clouds will meet the goals of your enterprise.

Cloud platforms often come in three different models: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (Paas), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Which features are available to you will depend on which types of services your cloud providers offer. For instance, SaaS platforms will typically charge a fee for you to use the application or software that a third-party provider manages, while PaaS lets you choose which apps to deploy on the platform.

Ultimately, each variation will come with its own set of network security concerns, and it’s important that you know exactly what to expect before you enter into an agreement with any cloud provider.

Pricing is another important factor to consider, as the variable cloud cost model can make pricing complicated and (and price comparisons among providers difficult). It’s also important to know what kind of support your cloud service providers will offer. Some support models are priced as a percentage of your cloud spend, so if this number is significant, then your support costs will likely be higher as well.

Also consider security. Security and privacy are some of the biggest reasons why companies opt out of the cloud. Before committing to any cloud service providers, you should have a thorough conversation with decision-makers in your organization to determine whether those vendors are secure enough (and whether they’re compliant).

No matter which cloud model you choose, you need to remember that securing your cloud environment is an important part of your risk management program. And as cybersecurity incidents continue to grow more prevalent in public cloud environments, it’s imperative for any organization using or considering a multi-cloud architecture to prioritize risk management, compliance, and ongoing support for monitoring existing and emerging threats.

Fortunately, there are cloud security solutions that can empower you to resolve short-term threats quickly while working to embed risk management optimization throughout your organization over time.

Improve Your Cloud Security with Reciprocity ZenRisk

As your company grows, it can be difficult to maintain a clear view of your entire security landscape. With cloud service providers come new security threats, and tracking these concerns using outdated methods is becoming increasingly challenging.

For this reason, companies need to look towards new security solutions for modern risk.

Reciprocity ZenRisk is an integrated cybersecurity risk management solution designed to provide you with actionable insights to gain the visibility you need to stay ahead of threats and clearly communicate the impact of risk on high-priority business initiatives. Turn the unknown into quantifiable and actionable risk insights with built-in expertise that identifies and maps risks, threats, and controls for you, so you can spend less time setting up the application and more time using it.

A single, real-time view of risk and business context allows you to clearly communicate to the board and key stakeholders in a way that’s framed around their priorities, keeping your risk posture in sync with the direction your business is moving.

Reciprocity ZenRisk will even notify you automatically of any changes or required actions, so you can be on top of your risk posture like never before. Eliminate time-consuming, manual work and streamline collaboration by automating workflows and integrating with your most critical systems.

Plus, Reciprocity ZenRisk is seamlessly integrated with Reciprocity ZenComply so you can leverage your compliance activities to improve your risk posture with the use of AI. Built on the ZenGRC, the Reciprocity product suite gives you the ability to see, understand and take action on your IT and cyber risks.

Now, through a more proactive approach, you can give time back to your team with Reciprocity ZenRisk. Talk to an expert today to learn more about how the Reciprocity Product Suite can help your organization mitigate cybersecurity risk and stay ahead of threats.