Multiple Clouds Versus Multi-Cloud

Geng Lin, EVP and CTO at F5, says a distributed cloud brings along the concepts of cross-cloud elasticity without massive cost increases, time constraints on provisioning, or environmental variances.

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Despite the broad adoption of multi-cloud strategies in the enterprise, there remains a dearth of effective solutions that address the many challenges faced by organisations executing them.

One such challenge is the secure interconnection of workloads hosted by multiple providers—a problem which magnifies in intensity when more cloud vendors are added.

Geng Lin, F5
Geng Lin, F5

Of the majority (75%) of organisations deploying apps in multiple clouds, 63% use three or more clouds, according to a Propeller Insights survey. Overall, more than half (56%) find it difficult to manage workloads across different cloud providers, citing challenges with security, reliability, and—generally—connectivity.

Some of this difficulty can be attributed to competing operational models.

Each individual cloud offers services and respective APIs that are unique to the individual cloud provider—and often require customers to conform to different skillsets, policies, and approaches. Every cloud offers a software-defined network experience, but no two clouds offer the same software-defined network experience. This often leads to inconsistent configurations that affect security and performance when these cross-environment differences are not properly considered.

This interconnectivity difficulty is heightened by the introduction of cloud-native, microservices-based applications significantly increasing the number of cross-communication instances. The Propeller survey found that “over 70% of respondents say that security problems are exacerbated in multi-cloud environments by the differing security services between providers (77%), the growing number of APIs (75%), and the prevalence of microservices-based apps (72%).”

All this is driving a need—and demand—for a new approach to multi-cloud networking.

The challenge of multi-cloud networking

Multi-cloud networking unifies two different approaches to simplifying application delivery:

  • It embraces software-defined internetworking from the bottom-up.It creates an overlay that abstracts the differences between networking environments and significantly simplifies the challenges of using multiple cloud environments together. The fixed physical infrastructure is used as a capable underlay with a standard cross-cloud control plane enabling dynamic virtual networking on top of it.
  • It extends simple container networking into sophisticated distribution from the top down.While the industry has begun to standardise on container workloads as a de facto application unit, the relatively unsophisticated networking underneath them must be extended toward other environments. This marks the eventual emergence of a distributed cloud to assist in managing application traffic between environments.

The convergence of these two elements has already led to the creation of two layers of abstraction in customer application architectures—Kubernetes to facilitate network workload management and SDN to simplify internetworking. But the way these two approaches currently converge still causes significant customer pain.

Many organisations experience a challenge with the way these technologies require operations to adopt overly granular configurations to obtain a standardised internetworking approach when multiple clouds are involved. The approach taken by one cloud provider—even for extremely simple networking tasks like VLAN management—is distinctly different from the approach taken by another…and both may be completely foreign to the approach taken by the enterprise for its own private cloud efforts.

The way in which networks are provisioned and managed across cloud properties often leads to the need to maintain a staff of experts in the differences between the respective environments just to keep pace with network standardisation.

Distributed cloud as a solution 

Adding more than one cloud provider to the mix magnifies the intensity of the problem. Clearly, there are better ways to tackle this issue by moving Kubernetes and SDN closer together, solving environmental differences, and removing the need to be a networking expert to make this all happen. At F5, we call this approach the “distributed cloud.”

Customers generally encounter this problem as their business decisions and application needs are weighed prior to selecting the “best network/cloud” for their service. This decision incorporates a variety of factors, such as cost, ability to launch, speed of deployment, or the need to be in a particular region—whatever factor the customer decides is critical to their application’s success. Rarely are network-side factors or interoperability with other clouds considered in the initial business decision. Unfortunately, this primes new challenges to occur as the application moves along its expected lifespan and other elements of the business make different decisions about cloud use.

At F5, we believe there is nothing inherently incorrect about the decisions made to use cloud technologies that are particularly suitable to business needs—even if it leads to the use of multiple vendors or environments. We do not suggest that our customers should uniquely pursue the benefits of any particular cloud provider, but to instead aim to create commonality across all of them with build-to-scale solutions that are reasonable and within the reach of customers’ network skills, application needs, and business desires. We call our approach the “distributed cloud.”

Our approach is backed by three key beliefs:

  1. We understand that the network must support a model of anywhere, anytime, without the loss of quality or customer experience.
  2. We assert that any internetworking cloud should be simple, complete, and consistent no matter what underlying cloud our customers might choose.
  3. We believe that our customers should be able to get more value through simple, declarative, API-driven unification across control and management planes.

The distributed cloud model considers that the users of our customers’ applications must be served with the highest aspects of quality, performance, and security in near-real time. Our aim is to provide a distributed cloud that brings along the concepts of cross-cloud elasticity without massive cost increases, time constraints on provisioning, or environmental variances.

F5 has created a broad portfolio of solutions to meet these critical moments head on by providing a congruent set of technologies and practices, and we are working hard to extend this to every application in our customers’ architectures. As part of our mission to move towards more Adaptive Applications, we intend to help customers complete these transitions to allow them to move workloads to the most efficient and effective locations, regions, or cost models with ease. Without employing a staff of network wizards for each environment.


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