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Cloud Agnostic: What Does It Really Mean And Why Do You Need It?

What does cloud agnostic mean and why does it matter? We break down what you need to consider with the cloud agnostic approach.

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The cloud computing space is constantly evolving — a fact that can sometimes set the stage for inconsistencies and confusion around both industry terminology and best practices. Cloud agnostic is one of those confusing terms, as is cloud native. But with the number of cloud agnostic and cloud native applications growing, it’s important to set the record straight.

As the lead IT consultant at Atlantic.Net, a growing cloud hosting company that offers customized hosting solutions, Richard Bailey is an expert in cloud cost management, cloud scalability, and cloud agnostic solutions. Here he explains the meaning of cloud agnostic, how it differs from cloud native, and the benefits and disadvantages of a cloud agnostic strategy.

What Does Cloud Agnostic Mean? (And How Does It Differ From Cloud Native?)

Cloud agnostic refers to tools, platforms, or applications that are compatible with any cloud infrastructure and can be moved to and from different cloud environments without any operational issues.

“A business is cloud-agnostic when the company IT systems are not locked into a single cloud vendor or do not rely on one cloud provider's proprietary services,” explains Bailey. “Typically, services are spread between multiple cloud vendors to preserve and ensure the uptime of critical applications.”

In most organizations, the core services that need to be fail-safe are the ones that are cloud agnostic. Organizations may also have other applications which rely on specific cloud vendors or on-premise infrastructure.

Any explanation of cloud agnostic usually includes a comparison with the cloud native approach — although these terms are not opposites. Cloud native is an architectural style where the application is typically one that is designed to run on a specific platform.

In many cases, these applications can also be moved around to different cloud platforms — so they are also cloud agnostic. Bailey notes that the term cloud native is usually used if the application is “designed and built to run in the cloud from inception.” This can refer to public, private, or hybrid cloud platforms.

Cloud Agnostic Vs. Cloud Native Applications: Important Considerations

There are many benefits to a cloud agnostic approach, such as not being locked into a specific vendor and having more choice and flexibility. In addition, organizations can rest assured that they will see optimal performance of their application, regardless of which cloud environment they are using.

With the ability to use multiple cloud vendors, there are built-in redundancies should an issue occur — which is why most core services need to be cloud agnostic.

However, for some organizations, taking a cloud native architectural approach may make more sense. Because these applications are designed and built to be used on a single cloud platform, they take advantage of that provider’s services and features. This usually means the application runs more efficiently.

When considering cloud agnostic and cloud native approaches, focus on these three elements:

  • Security and compliance - According to Bailey, because cloud native applications are built with the cloud provider in mind, they use the provider’s API for its security and compliance features. “Cloud agnostic applications can make things a little tricky,” Bailey says. “The APIs between each cloud provider can be different, which makes it more difficult to have your application work seamlessly on different cloud providers. If you are not able to utilize the application's built-in features, then the responsibility lands on you and your team to ensure that the security and compliance are in place for your application.”
  • Integration and portability - Most cloud vendors broadly provide similar services; however, some offer specializations such as HIPAA compliance or government hosting. For a cloud agnostic application, you can pick and choose which services the application consumes from each vendor. Bailey notes, “Cloud-native architecture helps with integration and portability as long as the cloud-native application is built for the cloud in general and not one specific cloud provider.”
  • Continuous monitoring - When it comes to monitoring solutions, it’s vital to ensure that the software will work across multiple cloud providers — not just one specific one. “With a cloud-native solution, it's easier for a business to use the cloud vendor’s monitoring solution. With a cloud agnostic solution, you shouldn't rely on one cloud provider's monitoring solution if you are utilizing multiple platforms, since you want to make sure the monitoring software will alert you if that platform is having an issue.” Bailey recommends organizations look into open-source monitoring solutions that are hosted on multiple cloud providers to ensure uptime.

Drawbacks Of A Cloud Agnostic Strategy

While a cloud agnostic approach provides organizations with several benefits, it’s also important to be cautious about the potential drawbacks. Although organizations can avoid being locked into a single vendor when they are cloud agnostic, this can also be a disadvantage for their engineering team.

With a cloud agnostic approach, organizations lock themselves into services that are transferable across multiple cloud providers. This “lowest common denominator” approach is necessary if the organization decides to switch cloud providers — but it also means the engineering team is not able to take advantage of the best-of-breed services of each of the cloud providers.

Not being able to use the innovative services of cloud providers can slow down the team and put competitors at an advantage.

For example, if one cloud provider offers a key feature that is important to your application, you may not be able to use it in a cloud agnostic approach if other cloud providers don’t have this feature. However, if your competitors are not taking a cloud agnostic approach, they can utilize the feature to provide more value for customers.

Another potential drawback of the cloud agnostic approach is dealing with unexpected data transfer costs — which are notoriously difficult to predict and understand. Building in multiple cloud providers can be uneconomical for many organizations.

In our experience, organizations benefit from a multi-service approach rather than a cloud agnostic one. This means organizations lock into one single cloud provider and build their application while taking advantage of best-of-breed services from multiple vendors — such as one for messaging and a separate one for data warehousing.

When Should You Use A Cloud Agnostic Vs. Cloud Native Approach In Your Organization?

Cloud agnostic vs. cloud native isn’t an either-or situation. “There is no reason to pick one or the other, as most cloud native applications are also cloud agnostic,” says Bailey.

Cloud agnostic solutions are ideal for businesses that want to avoid having cloud vendor lock-in and need to reduce their risk of downtime. This is a concern for organizations as some cloud providers may increase prices; having the flexibility to make a switch when necessary is key.

There are several aspects to consider when thinking about a cloud agnostic vs. cloud native approach — and it’s vital to align with the plan established by your organization’s cloud strategy. For many companies, cost is an important deciding factor.

However, understanding the costs of your cloud environment in context is a necessity. It’s not just about the total investment, but about understanding the value for each business unit.

By using a cloud cost intelligence platform like CloudZero, organizations can have every cloud cost answer they need at their fingertips — regardless of whether they build cloud agnostic, cloud native, or both kinds of applications. Want to see how it works? Request a demo today.

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