What is multi-cloud integration? Benefits and challenges

Nearly 90% of today’s organizations have deployed multi-cloud environments, but many businesses have discovered challenges to integrating data sources and applications in these infrastructures. Without a dedicated plan of action and an approach to resolving the challenges that accompany the integration of different cloud-based data streams, organizations may very well fail to execute data initiatives.

In this article, we’ll explain the advantages of multi-cloud integration, outline common integration problems, and detail a plan of action for integration in multiple cloud systems.

What do we mean by multi-cloud?

A multi-cloud strategy involves using more than one cloud vendor to host an organization’s data, applications, or infrastructure in a single environment. The term multi-cloud typically refers to using more than one of the large public cloud hosts: Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, or Microsoft Azure. However, other cloud providers can be part of multi-cloud architecture too. Multi-cloud integrations oftentimes involve using the resources from different cloud providers together, like a processing engine in Azure with a database in a different cloud host.

Using the best resources from different cloud providers as part of multi-cloud efforts has evolved to become best practice today. Still, it’s important not to confuse the term multi-cloud with hybrid cloud because these terms refer to two different aspects of cloud computing. Whereas, multi-cloud use cases rely on more than one cloud provider, hybrid clouds are classified as an environment that uses a combination of different cloud and on-premises systems.

Although the most common hybrid clouds share resources between, for example, one on-prem environment and one cloud application, hybrid clouds can also consist of using a public cloud in combination with a private cloud or a multi-tenant cloud together with a single tenant cloud. That said, multi-clouds can be hybrid clouds if different cloud providers and different types of clouds are used in the environment.

Experience the benefits of multi-cloud integration

Organizations who choose to integrate with a variety of cloud applications, often experience a number of benefits over those who rely on a single cloud system:

1. Increased productivity and efficiency

By using the top resources from multiple cloud providers, organizations can significantly improve their productivity and efficiency. For example, by using the best deep learning capabilities from Microsoft Azure with an OLTP system primed for rapid transactions in AWS, businesses could gain the best insights on the quickest transactional system.

2. Improved flexibility

Multi-cloud integration is ideal for the flexibility required to effectively complete different tasks. For example, organizations might want to use one cloud provider for centralized analytics of all of their data, and another for edge deployments in the Internet of Things. Using different applications for each of these use cases enables organizations to do lightweight transformations and analytics filtering before moving data into their central location.

3. Dynamic pricing

Organizations who use multi-cloud integration have the benefit of switching between cloud applications with different pricing models, thus taking advantage of dynamic prices by simply moving their workloads. In this case, it can be beneficial to have nodes in multiple clouds and integrate data with daily operations when necessary.

4. Avoid vendor lock-In

By relying on just one cloud provider, companies might encounter situations in which their data and metadata are  shaped by that provider’s proprietary systems and protocols. Consequently, all organizational data is shaped by third-party systems and protocols, making it both expensive and difficult to use a different provider in the future. Multi-cloud integration helps avoid these costly situations while keeping cloud providers honest.

5. Enable failovers and disaster recovery

It’s rarely a good idea to keep all of your cloud resources in a single host. If any issues occur — say an outage or some other form of downtime—productivity stops altogether. Multi-cloud deployments usually include failovers between cloud providers for this reason. If there’s downtime with one provider, organizations can quickly shift their resources to another for high availability.

The challenges of multi-cloud integration

As the above examples prove, utilizing multiple cloud systems is very important for any organization looking to get an edge on the competition. However, without appropriate multi-cloud integration, each cloud system acts as a silo, preventing organizations from gaining holistic value from their data. This is the exact opposite of cloud computing’s purpose.

To maximize the use of a multi-cloud environment, it’s important to mitigate common challenges that often arise with multi-cloud integration, including:

  • Architectural Complexity: Migrating solutions to the cloud or multiple cloud environments requires substantial changes to an organization’s existing architecture — especially if it involves only on-premises infrastructure. Organizations often need to redesign their on-premises applications in order to run them on new cloud applications.  
  • On-Prem Integration Structure Maintenance: When businesses deploy multi-cloud integration, it’s often difficult to preserve the integration structure of on-prem data and supporting systems. However, organizations must balance the needs of multi-cloud integration with traditional on-prem integrations in order to maintain existing connections between data and applications.
  • Agility: Multi-cloud integrations require a degree of agility that’s not as necessary when relying on a single cloud system or on-prem deployments. Having nodes in different cloud applications, for example, requires the ability to quickly shift between these nodes at different points in time, adding to the complexity of integrations.
  • Security: Security could very well be the most important issue surrounding multi-cloud integrations. Dynamically positioning resources between different cloud providers, for example, can expose organizations to all sorts of risks if they don’t have sufficient security measures in place. Although there are a variety of ways to address multi-cloud security, several of them — such as VPNs — can actually broaden the attack surface, making it essential to have a comprehensive security plan.
  • Data Governance: Regulations like GDPR hold organizations responsible for extending governance policies and practices for PII to processors like cloud providers. Using multi-cloud options increases the number of those data processors, as well as the intricacy and risk of multi-cloud integrations.
  • Containers and Microservices: Containers and microservices are useful in cloud deployments for developing applications and running them. As effective as containers and microservices are, they are both additional approaches  that need to be redesigned to fit into any new cloud integration.

Create a multi-cloud integration plan of action

Multi-cloud architecture no longer makes it feasible to integrate between specific applications or platforms with point-to-point solutions. These solutions are often brittle, difficult to scale, and time-consuming when adding new sources. Organizations are able to increase the efficiency of multi-cloud architecture by consolidating integration into a single mechanism. Best practices for doing so include:

A comprehensive integration platform

Organizations have many options for implementing a single integration layer into their multi-cloud architectures. These platforms typically depend on application programming interfaces and protocol standards like XML, JSON, and HTML in order for different cloud resources to talk to each other. Additionally, these platforms are useful for integrating data from on-prem systems, providing a single point of access and control over an organization’s entire IT resources, and enabling systems, applications, and data sources to operate with one another for a number of use cases.

Bimodal integration planning

There are several specific integration concerns organizations must account for with multi-cloud architecture, including monitoring, administration, security, and management of resources in a single integration platform. It’s best to account for these factors with a bimodal approach. The first mode should focus on the core concepts of reusability, trust, and regulatory compliance. Ideally, there should be specific roles in the workflow responsible for these tasks, such as an integration specialist and administrator. The second mode should have dedicated roles for deployment speed, flexibility, and risk management.

Transformation tools

It’s essential for multi-cloud integration platforms to have tools for transforming and conforming data to a single source’s data model. These tools address the differences in data models and schema of various data sources. Without them, it’s impossible to truly integrate data. It’s a good idea for organizations to architect these tools so they have a uniform view of the various data touchpoints. Common transformation tools rely on ETL or ELT processes.

Controls and permissions

A single integration platform provides a central access point for data governance and security requirements. Organizations can set up permissions or controls to determine exactly who is able to access what data from this single integration layer. With this approach, organizations can protect PII according to compliance or enterprise standards.

Management consoles

The best integration platforms for multi-cloud architecture have a single management console for controlling and monitoring the different workflows of the multiple sources involved. These tools are critical to helping data stewards or administrators understand how data is being integrated and used. Management consoles are also useful for the oversight necessary to implement data governance and security standards.

Multi-cloud integration made easy

As a comprehensive suite of data integration and data integrity applications, Talend Cloud provides fast, reliable data integration with industry-leading data quality and data governance capabilities. With over 900 connectors for integrating data from some of the most widely used cloud providers and sources available today, Talend Cloud streamlines the integration process. Download a free trial to increase the value of your multi-cloud integration.

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