Multicloud vs. hybrid cloud: What it all means

As companies move to the cloud, what that cloud looks like falls into two categories: hybrid cloud and multicloud. 

Of public cloud adopters, 62% are using two or more unique cloud environments or platforms, according to ForresterThe research firm found 75% of enterprises describe their strategy as hybrid/multicloud. 

While hybrid clouds and multicloud can be used togetherand tend to get lumped together —​ they are not the same thing.

“Hybrid cloud has an on-prem environment and connects to a cloud provider,” Bill Williams, CIO of real estate investment trust company CyrusOne, told CIO Dive in an interview. “Multicloud is leveraging more than one cloud.” 

What works for each organization depends on their preferences in terms data and applications, existing legacy software and infrastructure, and security tolerance and risk.

Here’s what IT decision makers need to know about the difference between multicloud and hybrid cloud, and how to use them together.

Hybrid cloud

In a hybrid cloud system, applications and data exist in multiple locations: a mix of public and/or private clouds, and in on-prem infrastructure.

Companies may want to keep information on premises for many reasons, Rob Perry, vice president of product management at solutions provider ASG Technologies, told CIO Dive. One is security because some organizations may not want to move sensitive information into the cloud because they’re not confident in the security of clouds just yet. 

Other companies may also run legacy applications that “just aren’t supposed to be in cloud environments,” said Williams. Those companies may also have made significant investments in on-prem infrastructure and aren’t willing to abandon them to move entirely to the cloud yet either.

Some organizations, confident in their systems, add cloud capacity when needed.

They “use the cloud for when they need to expand or have processes that have incredible peaks and lows and have the cloud scaling up and scaling back down to manage those peak workloads,” said Perry.


In a multicloud system, companies run applications and store data across multiple cloud providers.

It’s popular too: 85% of enterprises already operate in multicloud environments, according to the IBM Institute for Business ValueIBM found 41% of companies have a multicloud strategy, and 38% have multicloud management procedures and tools. 

Workloads are spread across multiple providers to “reduce your risk” of one cloud going down and taking all of a company’s systems with it, said Perry. Multicloud is also a way for organizations to access different applications and services because each cloud offers different options.

Enterprises use different services from different clouds, said Perry. “Instead of getting everything from one cloud provider you’ll be able to use whichever capability appears to be the best from whatever cloud provides it.”  

Hybrid Multicloud

More than 80% of companies use a multicloud strategy, typically made up of a hybrid cloud model that relies on public and private clouds, according to Rightscale’s 2019 State of the Cloud.

On average, companies are using 4.9 private and public clouds to run applications and experiment with new services. 

Data from RightScale 2019 State of the Cloud Report from Flexera

Deborah Barrington/CIO Dive

Williams sees this as the way forward. “I think customers will be leveraging both hybrid and multicloud solutions,” he said. 

This is especially true as companies figure out what works best for their businesses, and as they think about what can be done with the physical space allocated to on-prem resources if more applications and data were to move into the cloud.

Perry believes multicloud “will be the standard in the future.” He expects enterprises to have a preferred cloud, but “I don’t think anybody will be single cloud. It just won’t make sense.” 

In fact, 54% of IT managers expect the volume of data they store in public cloud servers to increase in the next 12 months, according to a study published by Cloudera in the Harvard Business Review. 

Also, half of companies expect to put artificial intelligence and machine learning platforms in the cloud by 2022.

That doesn’t mean on-prem is going away, especially for organizations with mission critical operations – like hospitals and power companies because “it’s not flipping a switch. It takes time,” said Perry. 

The most likely scenario is that companies “will likely have a lot of newer, more modern applications that run entirely in the cloud based on what they’re creating and deploying,” he said. “It’s going to stick around for a long time but will continue to move that to the cloud. Even if [multicloud] is the long-term direction, nothing happens overnight.”