Cloud computing enables organizations to vastly reduce their operational costs, increase efficiency, and become leaner, ultimately making them better able to adapt to change. As speed and agility increasingly become essential to success in the modern, fast-paced digital economy, organizations are deploying more of their applications, assets, and workloads to public clouds. 

It appears this trend is only going to continue. Research from McKinsey & Co. found that 55% of companies have increased the number of applications they have migrated to the cloud since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Different organizations employ different cloud approaches, but among the most widely used are the single-cloud and multi-cloud strategies, each one with its own advantages, disadvantages, and security challenges.

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What are single-cloud and multi-cloud storage systems?

The difference between single cloud and multi-cloud rests primarily on the number of cloud service providers with which an organization works. Organizations that use a single-cloud strategy rely on one cloud storage provider to supply all of their cloud storage needs and capabilities.

While there are some advantages to using a single cloud provider (discussed below), by far the more popular and widely used approach for the modern enterprise is multi-cloud. According to research from Oracle, 76% of companies rely on more than one public cloud, a figure that jumps to at least three public clouds when considering organizations with revenue of more than $1 billion.

As its name suggests, multi-cloud refers to an organization’s use of more than one cloud vendor to support different applications, assets, and workloads. The multi-cloud approach is more popular because it gives organizations a much wider degree of flexibility, capabilities, and pricing options than the single-cloud approach. 

Among the industry’s leading cloud service providers are:

  • Amazon Web Services.
  • Microsoft Azure.
  • Google Cloud Platform.

The hybrid-cloud environment

Many organizations are reluctant to completely migrate their IT assets from their on-premise infrastructure to public or private cloud environments. Not only can that process be resource-intensive, it also creates downtime and exposes organizations to risk. For those reasons, many business leaders today choose hybrid cloud, or an IT environment consisting of a combination of cloud (both public and private) and on-premise infrastructure.

Organizations using hybrid cloud in this category are able to leverage many of the advantages that come with deploying to the cloud without ripping and replacing their entire on-premise legacy systems.

Comparing the effectiveness of multi-cloud vs. single cloud

While multi-cloud strategies tend to be the preferred model for most organizations today, there are a number of pros and cons related to each that business leaders should consider before initiating their cloud deployment.

The main differences between single- and multi-cloud strategies

The advantages and disadvantages of the multi-cloud strategy

The advantages:

  • Greater flexibility: When organizations partner with multiple cloud providers, they’re free to select those whose service offerings best match each specific area of their business. That ensures they’re gaining access to the most appropriate range of capabilities for optimal performance and efficiency.
  • More cost-efficient: Similarly, organizations can compare competitive price points between different service providers and opt for those that offer the best balance of pricing and service quality. This enables them to drastically reduce their cloud operational costs and IT spend.

Advantages of multi-cloud strategy

The disadvantages:

  • Inconsistency: Every cloud service provider has a unique approach to cloud computing, often deploying their own separate tools, systems, and policies. Relying on multiple cloud providers means learning and engaging with a wide variety of different strategies, and that can be disconcerting for employees who have to access multiple clouds.
  • Security challenges: Cloud security is usually managed within the platform itself, using tools built by the cloud service provider. While these tools are highly effective, they do vary between different cloud vendors, and that can create an inconsistent approach to cybersecurity for the organization. Ultimately, these inconsistencies can create cybersecurity gaps.

Disadvantages of multi-cloud strategy

The advantages and disadvantages of the single-cloud strategy

The advantages

  • Greater management: Outsourcing applications, functions, data, and workloads to a single cloud provider vastly simplifies the orchestration of management processes on the enterprise end. This can help to eliminate manual administrative tasks and give internal teams more resources to focus on higher priority items.
  • Simplification: Single-cloud strategies don’t make sense for every enterprise. However, for those that only have a limited number of their applications and functions deployed to the cloud, relying on a single-cloud provider can simplify their cloud architecture without creating additional drawbacks and limitations.

Advantages of single-cloud strategy

The disadvantages

  • Vendor lock-ins: Organizations that partner with a single cloud provider are often locked into strict contractual terms. Lock-ins make it difficult for them to sever or alter the terms of their partnership and seek another cloud service provider if their needs change or expand.
  • Cloud inflexibility: Every cloud provider has a slightly different set of cloud services and specialties. Partnering with a single-cloud provider limits the enterprise to the service offerings of the lone provider, which could impose limitations on their flexibility if they want to expand beyond those core capabilities.

Disadvantages of single-cloud strategy

The security risks of multi-cloud and single-cloud environments

Regardless of the cloud storage model organizations choose, multi-cloud and single-cloud strategies share many of the same security challenges. These include:

  • Lack of visibility: Outsourcing critical data and functions to a cloud service provider can make it difficult for organizations to maintain complete visibility over the security policies of their cloud environment.
  • Development outpaces security: Speed is critical for organizations in the modern economy, and cloud deployment and application development often vastly outpace the establishment of appropriate security policies.
  • Unsecure access: Users can access cloud applications from virtually any device or endpoint, including those outside the enterprise network, creating serious security vulnerabilities.

Multi-cloud environments have a number of additional security challenges organizations need to consider. These include:

  • Inconsistent cybersecurity protocols: Different cloud vendors use different tools, platforms, and policies to maintain data security, and this can cause confusion for the enterprise.
  • Access credentials: Most employees will likely need access credentials to more than one public cloud, making it difficult to maintain consistent privileged access policies across the organization. 
  • Inconsistent upgrades: Cloud service providers are constantly upgrading their software to improve delivery and capabilities, but this can create new security gaps that are amplified when enterprises must manage upgrades from multiple cloud providers.

Multi-cloud and single-cloud security best practices

Cloud security incidents are incredibly common. Approximately 70% of organizations with data in public clouds experienced a security incident in 2020, according to research from Sophos. For that reason, it’s critical organizations understand best practices for cloud security so they know how best to protect their sensitive data from risk.

Multi-cloud and single-cloud security best practices include:

  • Automate where possible: Automating manual security tasks enables organizations to enhance the operability of their security processes while minimizing (or outright eliminating) the incidence of human error.
  • Maintain contact with cloud service providers: It’s important for organizations to stay in contact with their cloud service providers to understand their cybersecurity policies, stay abreast of any software updates, and learn the tools necessary to conduct proper oversight.
  • Consider security from the beginning: When developing applications in the cloud, organizations should conduct a risk assessment at every stage of development so possible security vulnerabilities are identified and addressed from the outset.
  • Maintain visibility by investing in the right tools: It’s important to invest in cloud security solutions that synchronize security tools, processes, and cloud-based data in a centralized location to facilitate enterprise visibility over all security information across your entire cloud infrastructure.
  • Understand responsibilities: Shared responsibility models obligate both the cloud vendor and the enterprise to take some degree of ownership for cloud security. It’s important for organizations to understand both their own and the cloud provider’s obligations.

As organizations increasingly migrate and deploy their applications and workloads to public cloud environments, it’s critical that cybersecurity is top of the agenda.

Alert Logic’s team of white-glove cybersecurity experts provides enterprises with the tools, personnel, experience, and solutions they need to conduct real-time detection, investigation, and remediation of all legitimate security threats facing their organization. We tailor our solutions to match the specific security requirements of your organization so you stay resilient in the face of a constantly evolving threat landscape.

Get in touch with our team to schedule a demo and get started.

Single- vs. Multi-Cloud Strategies

Angelica Torres-Corral
About the Author
Angelica Torres-Corral
Angelica Torres-Corral is a product marketing expert at Alert Logic. She brings over 15 years’ experience in security, ranging from data loss prevention and user and behavioral analytics to cloud technologies. Prior to Alert Logic, Angelica held roles at Forcepoint and Schneider Electric in product marketing, solution selling and corporate branding. She holds an MBA from California State University, Fresno and a bachelor’s degree from University of Chicago. Angelica is passionate about solving problems, and helping customers enhance their security posture.

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