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Multi-Cloud vs. Cross-Cloud: The Nuances, Benefits, and Challenges

The benefits and challenges of cross-cloud data protection
How do you seamlessly integrate cross-cloud and what are the benefits and drawbacks? What is the simplest and most cost-effective way to implement a secure, cross-cloud environment? Read this to find out.
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If you’re like 85 percent of businesses today, you’ve gone multi-cloud. That means you’re able to pick and choose from multiple cloud platforms when deciding where to host each workload. You might host some apps in one cloud because it offers better performance for them, for example, while choosing a different cloud for other apps because they’re more cost-effective in that environment.

But have you also gone cross-cloud? In other words, are you able to operate workloads across multiple clouds, rather than merely using different clouds in isolation at the same time?

If not, you may be missing out on many of the opportunities that come with using multiple clouds in an integrated way. When your organization is cross-cloud and not just conventional multi-cloud, you’re in the strongest possible position to optimize cloud workload resilience, performance, and cost management.

With that reality in mind, here’s a dive into what cross-cloud means, how it compares to a traditional multi-cloud strategy, and the role cross-cloud computing is poised to play in the future of the cloud as a whole.

What is cross-cloud?

Cross-cloud is a cloud computing strategy that involves operating the same workloads on more than one cloud. In other words, cross-cloud allows you to spread a given workload across clouds, rather than confining it to a specific cloud.

For example, under a cross-cloud strategy, you might have multiple instances of the same application hosted in both Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. Or, you could host an application frontend in AWS and connect it to a backend that resides in Azure.

Benefits of cross-cloud computing

A cross-cloud strategy opens the door to a variety of benefits, including:

  • Greater reliability: If you use a cross-cloud architecture to host multiple application instances on different clouds, your app will remain available even if one cloud fails entirely.
  • Performance enhancement: In some cases, a cross-cloud strategy can supercharge application performance by allowing you to host different parts of an app within whichever cloud offers the best performance for them.
  • Cost-efficiency optimizations: Spreading workloads across clouds allows you to take advantage of the best possible pricing for different parts of your workloads. For instance, you might host an application in one cloud because it offers the most cost-effective compute, but host the application’s database in a separate cloud with lower-cost database services.

Cross-cloud vs. multi-cloud

You need a multi-cloud architecture to be cross-cloud, since cross-cloud requires access to two or more cloud platforms that workloads can share. However, multi-cloud is distinct from cross-cloud, and simply having a multi-cloud architecture doesn’t mean you’re also cross-cloud.

Multi-cloud simply refers to using two or more cloud platforms at the same time, without necessarily operating workloads across them. For instance, in a classic multi-cloud setup, you might host some apps on AWS and others on Azure, with each app residing entirely within one of those cloud environments. The applications might be able to connect to each other over the network, but otherwise, they don’t share or depend on any resources hosted on a separate cloud.

Traditionally, the main reason for adopting a multi-cloud strategy was that multi-cloud gave you more options to choose from when selecting cloud services and infrastructure. It’s kind of like being in a mall food court and getting to buy your hot dog from one restaurant and your fries from another, because each restaurant specializes in different things.

Multi-cloud certainly increases your flexibility. However, the flexibility is ultimately limited because you have to host each workload in just one cloud.

In contrast, a cross-cloud architecture makes it possible to have the same application span multiple clouds, as noted above. Staying with the food-related analogies,  It’s like being able to take all your favorite restaurants and have them cook your food collaboratively. Cross-cloud provides all of the flexibility that comes with traditional multi-cloud, but it goes further by providing additional benefits, such as the ability to host copies of the same workload on multiple clouds at once. 

How does cross-cloud work?

Cross-cloud is not something you can simply turn on or install. In order to deploy workloads seamlessly across more than one cloud, you must first address several prerequisites:

  • Setting up accounts on more than one cloud platform.
  • Creating the infrastructure (such as VMs or object storage buckets) on each cloud that you’ll need to support your cross-cloud deployments.
  • Establishing network configurations that allow your app to operate seamlessly when it’s hosted across multiple clouds.
  • Configuring application deployment tools that are aware of your cross-cloud setup and can run each application component or instance on the appropriate cloud.
  • Ensuring that you’re properly backing up your app’s resources across all relevant clouds.

With these requirements in place, you can reliably deploy and operate applications across clouds.

The challenges of cross-cloud computing 

Traditionally, few tools have catered to cross-cloud application deployment. Organizations that wanted to go cross-cloud have therefore had to shoehorn platforms designed for other use cases into a cross-cloud scenario.

For example, setting a Kubernetes cluster with nodes hosted in multiple clouds, and with redundant pods deployed across those nodes, is one possible approach to cross-cloud application deployment. Because Kubernetes abstracts the underlying infrastructure from applications, it allows you to deploy and manage apps running across multiple clouds.

That said, setting up a multi-cloud Kubernetes cluster is not a trivial affair. You’ll need to manage complexities like configuring consistent networking across clouds and ensuring that network latency is low enough to enable your control plane nodes to communicate effectively with nodes hosted in remote clouds, while also keeping data in sync across clouds.

Frameworks like Azure Arc, which lets you manage third-party infrastructure through Azure, could also help to build cross-cloud setups. Here again, however, don’t expect the process to be simple, especially because cross-cloud is not really the major intended use case for Arc, which is instead designed to be a hybrid cloud management platform.

A third possible approach to cross-cloud is to use virtual machine (VM) platforms that let you snapshot and export VMs from one cloud to another. Theoretically, tools like this make it possible to deploy replicas of the same VM on multiple clouds at the same time. But this isn’t really the intended purpose VM cross-cloud replication features. Their main purpose is backup and recovery, not operating redundant VM instances across clouds at the same time – so if you attempt to implement cross-cloud in this way, you’ll likely end up with a result that is clunky at best.

Once you’ve set up a cross-cloud environment, you face a range of ongoing management challenges. For example, keeping data air-gapped in workloads that span multiple clouds is likely to be hard, especially given that most traditional data protection solutions aren’t designed to support cross-cloud setups. Similarly, meeting compliance mandates may be tough when you have workloads spanning multiple clouds – which could potentially also mean that the workloads exist in multiple jurisdictions at once and therefore face more than one set of compliance rules. The need to backup data across clouds – which compliance frameworks are increasingly mandating, and which may become a widespread compliance requirement over the next five to ten years – adds yet more complexity to compliance considerations surrounding data backup.

We could go on, but you get the point: Establishing a cross-cloud strategy has long been possible, but it was traditionally not for the faint of heart. It requires a deep level of engineering expertise, and you can run into a number of pitfalls.

Supercloud: The key to efficient cross-cloud management

Today, however, a new breed of tools – often referred to as supercloud or sky cloud solutions – is making cross-cloud environments considerably easier to set up and manage.

The idea behind supercloud is simple: By leveraging solutions that are not only compatible with multiple cloud platforms, but that can actually centralize and consolidate the management of workloads across multiple clouds at once, organizations can effectively deploy workloads on any and all clouds that they want. In effect, supercloud tools abstract the underlying cloud platforms from workloads, making it more or less irrelevant from admins’ perspective which cloud is hosting which parts of an app.

Writing on Forbes, Bernard Marr calls supercloud the “future of computing,” adding: “It’s the key to unlocking a future where organizations can truly take full advantage of having access to multiple cloud platforms… migrating to supercloud models, in theory, makes it easier for organizations to integrate and share tools or data with their clients and partners, who may be using completely different platforms to them.”

It also provides protections against the risk of data loss due to issues at the cloud provider level. Consider, for example, the case of UniSuper, whose data on GCP was entirely wiped out due to a misconfiguration. Fortunately, the company had cross-cloud backups in place, allowing it to recover. Going forward, gaining backup and recovery capabilities that free organizations of dependence on any particular cloud platform will be critical for maximizing resilience.

Putting cross-cloud into practice

To date, relatively few true supercloud tools have emerged. But N2WS’s cross-cloud backup and recovery capabilities (which were recently enhanced in V4.3) are one example of a solution that falls squarely within this category.

N2WS is much more than a conventional multi-cloud backup and recovery tool. N2WS takes multi-cloud to the next level by offering integrated backup and recovery that works across clouds – meaning you can take data from one cloud and seamlessly restore it to another cloud, for example, or back up workloads that span multiple clouds.

Cross cloud as the future of cloud computing

Soon enough, traditional multi-cloud will be old news. The future of cloud computing lies in cross-cloud approaches that tie multiple clouds together in meaningful ways. And while cloud tooling has yet to come fully up to speed with this vision, supercloud innovation is already happening, bringing us closer to a world where cross-cloud becomes the default approach to cloud computing.

N2WS is a prime example of a platform bringing supercloud capabilities to market today. With N2WS, you get more than a backup and recovery tool that supports multiple cloud platforms. You can also backup and recover data across clouds – meaning that if something goes wrong with one of the cloud platforms you use, N2WS will allow you to recover your data and workloads quickly and easily on a different cloud. And you can do it all without having to configure complex, specialized supercloud platforms.

See for yourself by requesting a free trial.

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