Some organisations are hedging their bets when it comes to choosing a cloud service provider, opting for multi-cloud solutions. On the face of it, it can appear to make sense not to put all your eggs in one basket. But there are strong business reasons for choosing the best solution for your needs and sticking with it.
The growing market of cloud service providers
The media mogul Rupert Murdoch is supposed to have said that he wouldn’t necessarily fire someone for making the wrong decision – but he would, absolutely, fire someone for not taking a decision.
While there are certainly times when not doing something is the right course, in business there are plenty of decisions that can’t be dodged.
As enterprises move to the cloud one of these decisions is which cloud provider to choose. Microsoft Azure and AWS currently dominate, with Google coming in from behind, with the legacy of offerings from other providers seeming increasingly peripheral (for example Alibaba, Oracle, IBM, Tencent, OVHcloud, DigitalOcean and Linode).
Key factors in choosing cloud services: latency and redundancy
A primary factor in choosing a service is coverage – the number of regions and zones each provider offers. This is important for two key reasons: latency and redundancy.
Latency is best described as the lag caused by the time it takes data to travel from the data centre to the users. This may not sound like a big deal, but for some applications it absolutely is. Those trading financial instruments typically site themselves as physically close to financial exchanges as possible because lagging even microseconds behind the competition can make the difference between profit and loss. Even if you don’t measure response times in microseconds, nobody wants their service to lag.
Redundancy is spare capacity so, if the server centre you’re hosted on falls over, your site or service doesn’t disappear. It simply moves to another ‘availability zone’.
Are there real advantages to multi-cloud solutions?
Some customers hedge their bets and spread their applications or operations between more than one provider. There are typically two reasons for this. One is that customers are wary of being at the financial mercy of one provider – what if they raise their charges? The other is that they worry that if a provider experiences a major outage their services disappear.
With robust competition, albeit from an increasingly narrow field of runners, if a provider got a reputation for gouging customers, people would start looking elsewhere.
Nor has downtime been a significant issue. Of those top ten providers as of January 2022, Microsoft Azure operated in the most regions (60; Oracle was second with 38) and had the largest number of availability zones (116; Google was second with 103). That’s a lot of fall-over capacity, with availability only a micro hair off 100%.
So the advantages of hedging your bets are slim. The downsides, meanwhile, are significant.
The disadvantages to multi-cloud solutions
Different providers aren’t interoperable. You can’t simply pick up your application and plonk it down on someone else’s cloud; the software would have to be rebuilt for a different cloud environment. You might like to think that you can flee a provider if there’s a problem, but it’s not the equivalent of packing for a week on the Costa; it’s more like moving house.
And because different cloud environments are distinct, so are the skills needed to architect, build and deploy software to those platforms. Another analogy: England rugby captain Owen Farrell and football captain Harry Kane are both top sportsmen; that doesn’t mean that Farrell could step into a top football team or that Kane would make a great fly-half. Using two cloud providers effectively means running two teams – and they’ll be of limited help to one another. And in the current unpredictable climate you want everyone on the one team – both developers and operations – for maximum responsiveness and agility.
So how do you decide which cloud is best for your organisation?
That said, you still have to make a decision. Amongst the factors to consider one is certainly cost. A second is coverage (bear in mind that some players, especially the Asian ones, can be quite regionally focused). A third, and I’d argue vital one, is your choice of Systems Integrator to partner with. Any advantage of one cloud provider over another needs to be weighed against your working relationship with your partner.
Focus on the important stuff – like cost, coverage and finding the right Systems Integration partner – and less on largely imagined problems, and you’ll find it far easier to make the right choice for you.
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