Let's not confuse multicloud with agnosticism

Having several clouds in the mix is probably a sensible idea, but it doesn't necessarily mean there is a fallback if something goes wrong.

Iain Morris, International Editor

October 12, 2022

5 Min Read
Let's not confuse multicloud with agnosticism

There's an old (by technology and millennial standards) movie called The Net starring a pre-Botox Sandra Bullock that House Morris stumbled across on Netflix and started watching last night. With a title like that, it's predictably cyber-themed, but it's more dated than Laurel and Hardy. The computers all resemble typewriters, data gets saved and mailed on floppy disks and the graphics are blockier than Minecraft. The most visionary bit is when the twentieth-century Bullock orders a pizza online.

What makes it interesting are all its cautionary notes about over reliance on technology. One early scene at an airport shows flights being cancelled due to a computer glitch, not staff shortages. A Cessna crashes when its navigation system malfunctions. Later, Bullock's character's identity is wiped from national computer records, and she effectively ceases to exist.

Technology is omnipresent in today's movies, but the mundane risks have vanished. Instead, we have cyber terrorists infiltrating banks or government networks, virtual reality worlds controlled by sinister corporations, artificial intelligence that seeks to kill us. Very rarely do the lights simply go out.

Figure 1: Inside one of the data centers at the heart of the Internet. (Source: Google) Inside one of the data centers at the heart of the Internet.
(Source: Google)

But if they did in the real world, there would be carnage. Humanity has plugged itself into the Internet, jacked up the power and started disengaging from anything outside that system. Cash is widely unaccepted. Commerce and customer service have migrated online. Relationships have been virtualized. In the developed world, the still unconnected have become the disenfranchised.

To cap it all, a coterie of US corporate giants controls much of the plumbing. With their big public clouds, Amazon, Google and Microsoft are the Caesar, Crassus and Pompey of this Internet empire. Data once stored in filing cabinets or physical libraries has been computerized and lodged on servers in the triumvirate's data centers. Being able to switch allegiance from one cloud to another would seem like sensible insurance against complete Internet subjugation. But even that is not easy.

Moving telco workloads from one public cloud to another remains a "nightmare," according to one European telco executive on the tech side. Shifting IT workloads sounds ruinously expensive and time-consuming, judging by the comments that Netflix and Snap have included in recent filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. And parts of the telecom and Internet industries are guilty of obfuscation.

Of natives and agnostics

They have done it by conflating multicloud with agnosticism. The former refers to the use of several public clouds by a single company. By having relationships with two or three of the public clouds, a telco can ensure it is not overly dependent on one supplier. But this does not mean the workloads stored on those various clouds are agnostic – that is, easily portable from one to another. Snap has a multicloud strategy, relying on Amazon and Google, but it could not move workloads between them without incurring huge costs, it has said. It lacks agnosticism.

Adding further confusion is the term cloud-native. It features prominently in software marketing literature these days and implies compatibility with the cloud. Yet the more comfortable software is in one cloud environment – the more it has taken advantage of that cloud's specific features – the harder it will find adapting to another. Totogi, which develops business support systems for telcos, uses an Amazon database technology called DynamoDB that means it cannot easily move to Google or Microsoft. Developers, it seems, must choose between cloud-native and cloud-agnostic. They cannot have both.

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Uncertainty surrounds a new deal between T-Mobile and Google, which is furnishing the US operator with certain cloud-based analytics tools for better understanding customer needs. Could an operator using the Google cloud easily move to an alternative provider in future? "It depends on each operator's implementation," said Amol Phadke, who leads global telecom industry solutions for Google, when asked that question.

"Obviously, we would have to understand the specifics of how portable the operator's datasets are, what kind of underlying capabilities have been built into those datasets," he continued. "These are specific implementation details that we won't know." Google, nevertheless, supports a multicloud strategy, said Phadke.

No doubt, multicloud is preferable to a single cloud, providing at least some alternative or backup if one supplier runs into problems. But without agnosticism, a multicloud strategy sounds rather like buying all your gas from Russia and all your oil from Saudi Arabia and claiming this gives you energy diversity. With the lights poised to go out over parts of Europe this winter, nobody would be saying that.

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— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Iain Morris

International Editor, Light Reading

Iain Morris joined Light Reading as News Editor at the start of 2015 -- and we mean, right at the start. His friends and family were still singing Auld Lang Syne as Iain started sourcing New Year's Eve UK mobile network congestion statistics. Prior to boosting Light Reading's UK-based editorial team numbers (he is based in London, south of the river), Iain was a successful freelance writer and editor who had been covering the telecoms sector for the past 15 years. His work has appeared in publications including The Economist (classy!) and The Observer, besides a variety of trade and business journals. He was previously the lead telecoms analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit, and before that worked as a features editor at Telecommunications magazine. Iain started out in telecoms as an editor at consulting and market-research company Analysys (now Analysys Mason).

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