The multi-cloud imbroglio: What is it, what drives it, and how do you manage it?

A research report from BMC Software argues organisations are struggling to manage multi-cloud environments – with four in five respondents saying current multi-cloud management approaches need rethinking.

The study, which polled 1,000 IT decision makers across 11 countries, found that drivers of multi-cloud strategies were less than clear. The most popular reason was cost optimisation, cited by 45% of respondents, with agility (44%) and mitigating risk (40%) also highly cited.

It may however not be as much of a surprise that the drivers were unclear if the definition of multi-cloud is unclear. Just over half (52%) of those polled agreed that the term multi-cloud ‘includes a combination of public and/or private clouds as well as on-premises solutions’. 23% of respondents said it must encompass all three.

Wait, you may be asking: isn’t that hybrid? More on that shortly. Yet the most worrying finding from the study is around costs; even though 45% of respondents said cost optimisation was the biggest driver in multi-cloud, 40% admitted they did not know how much their businesses were spending on cloud services.

“IT leaders must consider new ways to manage multi-cloud environments to ensure they are getting the expected benefits from public cloud in terms of cost savings, automated performance optimisation, and increased security and governance,” said Bill Berutti, BMC president of enterprise solutions.

The report goes on to note the different approaches organisations can take, with automation high on the list. Yet it may be worth taking a step back here.


Let’s take an extremely basic definition of multi-cloud – in this instance “the use of two or more cloud computing services”. This often refers to a mix of public infrastructure as a service (IaaS) environments. For instance, organisations could use Amazon Web Services (AWS) for compute, and Microsoft Azure for storage. A looser definition could be utilising different cloud providers for different product sets. Security provider Symantec appears to have done this, using Azure to power its Norton anti-virus product suite, and AWS for many other workloads.

The other definition of multi-cloud is around avoiding vendor lock-in; something which, as TechTarget notes, drove many early strategies but is being slowly subsided, as previously mentioned, for organisations’ broader business or technical goals. Writing for this publication in August, Jay Chapel, CEO of ParkMyCloud, argued risk mitigation was not the most significant driver, while vendor lock-in could be mitigated in other instances. Chapel argued he sees customers using a multi-cloud strategy ‘to design and build applications in the clouds best suited for optimising their applications’. “You can then use this leverage to help prevent vendor lock-in,” he added.

In April, analyst firm 451 Research said that around half of AWS houses in Europe were also using Azure, and vice versa. More recent figures released by the company show more than two thirds (69%) of survey respondents were planning to have some type of multi-cloud environment by 2019.

The cloud providers themselves are of course more than aware of this – and in certain instances trying to get organisations to bridge the divide. Earlier this year Microsoft, whose aggressive strategy in cloud is unmistakeable, published a lengthy guide comparing AWS and Azure services. As Melanie Posey, 451 research vice president, told this publication at the time, while the guide notes the importance of multi-cloud for organisations in terms of greater choice and flexibility, the real aim is most likely to ‘translate’ AWS services into Azure, and showing organisations how to migrate from one to the other.

Another much more recent example, albeit not both in the public cloud, can be seen with Microsoft and VMware. Today saw the launch of Azure Migrate to all Azure customers, aimed at helping organisations migrate VMware-based applications to Azure, integrate them with Azure, and deploy VMware virtualisation on Azure hardware. VMware responded by saying it could not support customers who went down that route as the Microsoft service had neither been certified nor supported by the company. Indeed, VMware has an official partnership with AWS in place with the marketing touted at combining the ‘world’s leading’ private and public cloud providers respectively.

Whichever definition of multi-cloud you take and the reasons for taking it on, there are tangible benefits. But as ever, plenty of due diligence needs to take place to make sure your organisation gets a solution which both offers technological advantage as well as saves costs.

In its report, BMC offers five recommendations for organisations in successfully managing multi-cloud environments: gain increased visibility into cloud assets to get the complete picture; get a clear picture of cloud costs as not everything may need to be in the cloud; take a proactive stance to harden a broader attack surface and ensure compliance; rethink management approaches and simplify and automate as much as possible; and explore AI and machine learning, which has the potential to remove repetition out of the multi-cloud management process.

You can find out more about the report here (pdf).