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The terms multi-cloud and hybrid cloud are often used synonymously but they are not the same.

Multi-cloud is focused on using multiple cloud computing services or platforms from different vendors. For example, an organization might use Amazon Web Services (AWS) for some of its applications and Microsoft Azure for others.

Multi-cloud app delivery

Hybrid cloud is focused on using both cloud services and on-premises infrastructure with cloud services. For example, an organization’s hybrid cloud environment might involve running some applications in a public cloud like AWS, while others are run in a private cloud hosted on-premises.

Hybrid cloud app delivery

Key Differences Between Multi-Cloud and Hybrid Cloud

Differences between multi- and hybrid cloud architectures fall under these categories:

  • Architecture
  • Flexibility
  • Security
  • Complexity

Architecture

Multi-cloud spans multiple public cloud environments from different providers. The different public clouds are generally used for different tasks (e.g., one for program logic, another for databases, and a third for machine learning) and the distribution across clouds can vary on a per-application basis. Organizations choose a multi-cloud strategy to take advantage of the flexibility and features of various clouds.

Hybrid cloud includes two or more different types of cloud environments (on p‑remises, private cloud, and public cloud). In many architectures, the public cloud’s role is to extend the functionality of the private cloud or on-premises environments. A hybrid cloud architecture is typically used by organizations that are migrating apps to the cloud or those who have too much technical debt* to go 100% cloud native.

Flexibility

By using multiple public clouds from various vendors, multi-cloud architectures enable organizations to avoid vendor lock-in**, optimize their cloud spending, and choose the best cloud for each workload. These decisions can be based on business requirements and factors such as performance, necessary features, and geographic location.

For example, an organization’s multi-cloud architecture might use:

A hybrid cloud architecture’s flexibility comes from the ability to combine the advantages of a private cloud (e.g., greater control, security, and compliance) with the benefits of a public cloud (e.g., scalability, cost-effectiveness, and ease of use).

For example, an organization’s hybrid-cloud architecture might use:

  • Private cloud for mission-critical applications
  • Public cloud for testing and development
  • Hybrid cloud for data analytics

Security

A multi-cloud architecture distributes data across multiple public clouds, which improves security by reducing the risk of a single point of failure. When using different cloud providers, an organization can take advantage of each provider’s security features. This approach does introduce a level of complexity, in that there must be management of the variety of security features across the multiple cloud environments. There may also be potential security risks associated with integrating different cloud platforms.

An additional layer of security for sensitive data and critical applications is provided by private cloud companies in a hybrid cloud architecture. This infrastructure gives the organization greater control over the security measures (e.g., access control, encryption, and data protection) implemented in the private cloud. However, the public cloud component can introduce security concerns – chiefly, the need to protect against data breaches, account hijacking, and other threats that could compromise the integrity and availability of the data.

Complexity

Multi-cloud architecture involves both a deep understanding and management of multiple public cloud environments with their own tools, APIs, and interfaces. Configuring and managing this kind of architecture requires significant planning and coordination. It also requires ongoing management to make sure the organization achieves optimal performance while remaining cost-effective and maintaining data security.

A hybrid cloud architecture needs to integrate and manage both private and public cloud components. This involves configuring and managing connectivity between the private and public clouds, ensuring data consistency and synchronization across multiple clouds, and maintaining security and compliance across the hybrid environment.
 

Multi-Cloud Example

One example of multi-cloud would be an organization that uses AWS for its web applications and Microsoft Azure for its data analytics and machine learning workloads.

In this example, AWS is preferred for its scalability and high availability. Azure is preferred for its data analytics and machine learning capabilities. By leveraging the strengths of each platform, the organization can take advantage of the unique features of each cloud (avoiding vendor lock-in).

Multi-Cloud Use Case

Spotify is a music streaming service that uses multiple cloud platforms to deliver its services to millions of users around the world. Because it requires high-performance and scalability, Spotify uses Google Cloud as its cloud provider for data analytics and machine learning workloads. AWS is used for its content delivery and streaming services, as these services require low latency and high availability. Lastly, Microsoft Azure is used for backend services that require integration with other Microsoft technologies.

This multi-cloud environment has allowed Spotify to optimize its infrastructure for resiliency. In the event of an outage or failure, the environment is set up to quickly shift workloads to another platform, reducing downtime and avoiding a negative user experience.

Benefits of Multi-Cloud

Organizations that require high availability and don’t want to be permanently tied to a set of vendors for goods or services may prefer a multi-cloud architecture for these reasons:

Reduced Vendor Lock-in – By using multiple cloud platforms, an organization can avoid being too closely tied to one vendor. Cloud diversification can make it easier for the organization to negotiate better pricing and contract terms.

Increased Resilience – Multi-cloud lets an organization distribute workloads across multiple cloud providers. This can help prevent downtime and improve business continuity in the event of an outage or failure at one of the cloud providers.

Flexibility – Multi-cloud allows an organization to select the best cloud platform for each application or workload. This can help optimize performance, scalability, and cost-effectiveness.

Challenges of Multi-Cloud

As with any architecture, some challenges exist. Multi-cloud challenges include:

Complexity – Managing multiple cloud platforms can be complex and require specialized skills. This can increase operational overhead and make it more difficult to troubleshoot problems.

Integration Challenges – Integrating multiple cloud platforms can be difficult, especially if the platforms use different APIs and architectures. This can require additional development effort and increase the risk of encountering compatibility issues unless ample consideration and planning is done upstream.

Cost – While this environment can cut costs by allowing an organization to select the best platform for each workload, it can also potentially increase costs due to the need for additional management and integration resources.

Hybrid Cloud Example

One example of hybrid cloud would be an organization that maintains some of its IT infrastructure on-premises while they use public cloud services to host mission-critical applications and sensitive data on their own servers. A public-cloud service is added for less critical workloads or to help with load balancing during periods of high demand.

The organization would leverage this environment to scale and flex both its on-premises infrastructure and public cloud services to optimize IT resources and meet business goals.

Hybrid Cloud Use Case

Netflix is a popular video streaming service that uses a hybrid cloud architecture to deliver content to millions of users around the world. Netflix optimizes AWS for high-performance, low-latency streaming while their on-premises infrastructure is used for content creation and data processing. This hybrid cloud environment provides scalability, helps Netflix avoid vendor lock-in, and improves business continuity by enabling workload distribution across multiple platforms.

Other hybrid-cloud use case examples:

Benefits of Hybrid Cloud

Organizations that require a mix of on-premises infrastructure and public cloud services may prefer a hybrid cloud environment for these reasons:

  • Flexibility – Hybrid cloud allows for the selection of the best platform for each workload. This can help optimize performance, scalability, and cost-effectiveness.
  • Improved security – With proper configuration and management, an organization can keep sensitive data and mission-critical applications on-premises while using public cloud services for less sensitive workloads. Hybrid cloud architectures reduce the risk of data breaches and can improve compliance with regulatory requirements.
  • Lower costs – When an organization can leverage existing on-premises infrastructure while taking advantage of public cloud services, resources can be optimized and expenses reduced.

Challenges of Hybrid Cloud

Similar to multi-cloud, hybrid cloud comes with its own challenges, which include:

  • Complexity – Managing a hybrid cloud environment can be complex and require specialized skills. This can increase operational overhead and make it more difficult to troubleshoot problems.
  • Integration Challenges – Integrating an on-premises infrastructure with public cloud services can be challenging, especially if the platforms use different APIs and architectures. This can require additional development effort and increase the risk of compatibility issues.
  • Security Risks ­– If not properly configured, secured, and managed, the data that moves between the on-premises infrastructure and public cloud services can be vulnerable to bad actors or attacks.

Multi-Cloud and Hybrid Cloud Learning Resources

NGINX is a cloud‑agnostic solution that simplifies your stack, provides a standard set of services, and easily integrates with your on-premises and cloud environments (including AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud).

We are proud to offer the following free resources to help you continue researching your cloud migration options:

Footnotes

* Technical debt in software development describes the costs associated with subpar solutions, such as code that is hard to understand or modify, systems that can’t scale or are difficult to maintain, and bugs that are impossible to track down or fix. These “debts” are usually the result of time or budget constraints where a “quick and dirty” solution was seen as more feasible to meet a business goal or deadline, versus taking the time to design and implement a more maintainable and scalable solution.

** Vendor lock-in is where a customer becomes dependent on one particular vendor for a good or service to the point that a switch in vendors could delay production, increase cost, or result in a negative customer experience during the transition to the new vendor. In software development, vendor lock-in can happen when a customer uses proprietary software available from one vendor. In the hardware industry, lock-in can occur with the replacement of existing or procurement of new specialty parts.

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