Rather than relying on a single cloud provider, a multicloud strategy is one where companies look to use cloud computing applications and services from a range of different suppliers: this can give them the benefits of avoiding vendor lock-in, more competitive pricing (from shopping around), and greater resistance to outages should they occur.
Most digital-native (83%) and digital-forward (81%) companies list multicloud support as a consideration when implementing on-demand technology provision, says research from the International Data Group (IDG) and Google.
Michael Cole, CTO of golf's European Tour and Ryder Cup, is one technology leader who believes that adopting a multicloud approach is the best way to ensure his organisation's on-demand IT systems and services are a stable platform for digital transformation.
"I do believe that it is the right approach," he says. "And that is something that we will look at certainly moving forward to make sure that we are mitigating risk around cloud providers and making sure that we are hybrid in our approach."
Cole says the main benefit of multicloud is risk management – if you spread your workloads across a range of providers, then you give yourself cover in the case of unexpected outages. In fact, he says those benefits mean that – even if you have to spend a bit more – it's worth the outlay.
"I would always put risk over cost in terms of my considerations," he says. "You may well lose some economies of scale in that regard. But actually, if you put yourself into a far more secure environment, then that's got to be a better thing in terms of the technological landscape."
While his organisation tends to be a heavy user of Azure, it also uses other services from external providers that are hosted across a range of environments.
"Where we have our own systems, then there is a tendency towards Azure, but equally we do use a range of other services through third parties, such as Workday, Salesforce and a range of specialist apps. Many of these services are based on alternative cloud providers, such as AWS. So, in many ways, we're already multicloud tenanted."
Other CIOs are taking a similar approach. As they introduce new applications, they use a broader range of service providers. Analyst Gartner says global spending on the cloud will reach $474bn in 2022, up from $408bn this year.
In fact, the move towards multicloud provision could be seen as an unanticipated side effect of pushing more and more applications and data on-demand.
As CIOs and their line-of-business peers have increased their reliance on the cloud, so they have created new contracts with a multitude of service providers: what many CIOs have effectively ended up with is a multicloud strategy by default.
Brian Roche, director of information technology at George Best Belfast City Airport, also believes businesses will increasingly choose to rely on a spread of external service providers.
"I think multicloud is the way to go," he says. "If I can get an area of provision off my plate and let somebody deliver that to me as a service, then that's what I'll do."
The airport has halved its IT operational costs and created a platform for data-led business transformation by migrating its legacy technology infrastructure to Nutanix Enterprise Cloud. Roche says he mixes this reliance on a hyperconverged platform with a multicloud strategy.
"What I'm doing with a lot our systems is that, if I can find somebody to add capability via software as a service, I'll do that," he says.
"If we can make that decision, then I know I'm managing a service level agreement (SLA) with an external provider instead of having to manage an SLA to the business – and that means I don't have to worry so much about all of the technology that underpins it, all of the people that need to be trained, and all of the upgrades that need to be happening."
An increasing reliance on external service provision is a familiar theme: Gartner says businesses will not be able to fully execute on their digital strategies without the use of cloud-native architectures and technologies.
However, it's important to remember than non-IT people don't really care whether an application is delivered via the cloud or not, says Nicki Doble, group CIO at insurance company Cover-More Group. All the rest of the business wants is to be able to turn on the tap and consume more resources when they need it most.
"You might wonder, 'how can I get someone to buy into my cloud strategy?' Now, the simple reality is no one in the business cares whether you use cloud or not. They don't understand it and they don't care – as long as it works, that's all they care about," she says.
All the evidence points to the consumption of cloud going only one way: upwards. Gartner says more than 85% of organisations will embrace a cloud-first principle by 2025. The extensive use on-demand IT means spending on the cloud will surpass non-cloud revenue for enterprise IT markets during the next few years.
In a business environment that will be characterised by an ever-increasing reliance on the cloud, then the role for CIOs will be to make sure that the business can turn the tap on easily and cost effectively when it needs more cloud services.
A multicloud strategy – with its spread of risk, avoidance of vendor lock-in and workload scaling – is probably the best way to ensure that the enterprise IT plumbing is fit for the next round of digital transformation projects.