Although there is some overlap between multi-cloud and hybrid cloud, the terms refer to slightly different cloud strategies.
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A hybrid cloud infrastructure blends two or more different types of clouds, while multi-cloud blends different clouds of the same type. You might say hybrid cloud is like combining apples and oranges, while multi-cloud is like combining different types of apples.
In cloud computing, applications and data are hosted in remote servers in various data centers, instead of in the same location of the users they are serving. When discussing multi-cloud and hybrid cloud, each individual cloud service or set of services from each vendor can be called a "cloud" for short.
A public cloud is a cloud service that multiple customers use, although they don't interact with each other, just as many customers can use one bank without drawing on each other's funds.
A private cloud is a cloud service for only one customer. An organization can either build and maintain a private cloud themselves, or they can pay an external vendor to host a private cloud for them.
"Multi-cloud" refers to the combination and integration of multiple public clouds. A business may use one public cloud as a database, one as PaaS, one for user authentication, and so on.
If the multi-cloud deployment includes a private cloud or an on-premise data center as well, then the cloud deployment can actually be considered a hybrid cloud.
A hybrid cloud combines public cloud computing with a private cloud or on-premise infrastructure. On-premise infrastructure can be an internal data center or any other IT infrastructure that runs within a corporate network.
Hybrid cloud deployments are fairly common. Some businesses migrate partly to the cloud but find it cost-prohibitive or too resource-intensive to move all the way, and as a result some processes, business logic, and data storage still take place in legacy on-premise infrastructure.
Businesses may also choose to adopt a hybrid cloud strategy in order to keep some processes and data in a more controlled environment (e.g. a private cloud or on-premise data center) while taking advantage of the greater resources and low overhead of public cloud computing.
Finding the right cloud deployment comes down to a number of factors. Chief among them are cost and security.
Public clouds typically come with less overhead and less direct management than other types of infrastructure. The cloud vendor handles most, if not all, of the responsibilities that are part of maintaining a data center – provisioning servers, applying security updates, and so on. For this reason, businesses for whom cost is the deciding factor may want to move to a fully public cloud deployment, and perhaps a multi-cloud deployment.
For businesses that have high regulatory standards for any subset of their data or business logic, a hybrid cloud deployment may be best. With a hybrid cloud, they can keep some data in a more tightly controlled environment, like a private cloud or on-premise data center.
However, these tightly controlled environments are not always more secure. Often, public cloud vendors have more resources for applying patches and protecting data than individual businesses, depending on their cybersecurity budget.
Other factors to consider:
If a hybrid cloud deployment incorporates multiple public clouds, it can also be considered a multi-cloud deployment. For this reason, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, even though they actually mean slightly different things.
Cloudflare helps businesses with both hybrid cloud and multi-cloud strategies. The Cloudflare product stack (which includes a web application firewall, load balancing, SSL, DNS, and other crucial features) sits in front of any type of infrastructure, whether it's multi-cloud, hybrid cloud, or on-premise infrastructure. The Cloudflare global network of data centers in 300+ cities secures and accelerates web applications for users anywhere in the world.
Learn more about how Cloudflare integrates with cloud deployments.
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