Coronavirus accelerates shift in cloud deployment

There are convincing business cases for using public, private or hybrid cloud models under normal trading conditions. But now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, your choice might impact your company's long-term sustainability

COVID-19 and cloud

With the COVID-19 crisis unfolding, enterprises are asking whether they have adopted the right cloud computing models for their business’s processes and whether these will have to change rapidly in a post-pandemic environment.

Legacy workloads, ongoing security concerns, shifting patterns of network access and cloud sprawl, where multiple cloud deployments, often from different vendors, are in use, all impact decisions when choosing cloud services to deploy after COVID-19.

Businesses are now at the stage where their choice of cloud computing models is vital to their long-term sustainability and profitability. What the pandemic has bought into sharp relief is how a flexible cloud deployment is critical to enable enterprises to be agile and adaptable with their workloads, processes and the support they can give to remote workforces.

The cloud service models on offer are also expanding to meet increasingly focused and bespoke business models.

Chief executives are tasking their technology and information leaders to advance their cloud deployments away from one size fits all, to specialist service providers focused on their business niche.

The extreme strain on IT during COVID-19 has exposed every IT organisation’s unique breaking points

Large-scale cloud infrastructure service providers, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, are the workhorses for general workloads and application deployments. However, businesses are also looking past these infrastructure-as-a-service providers towards more personalised virtual machine services better suited to their needs as they assess what business means for them after COVID-19.

Sunil Prashara, president and chief executive of Project Management Institute, says: “Leaders always need to think customer first, especially as virtual work is now the new norm, and must reimagine their businesses. They need to be virtually agile and able to adapt to how business and work gets done from this point forward.”

The near future will require a more subtle and personalised approach to cloud computing models. As businesses look past the pandemic, their choice of public, private or hybrid cloud will be driven by the new commercial environments they find themselves trading in.

Taking a holistic approach to their entire business need will result in the right decisions being made when choosing and deploying cloud services. Enterprise may have to reimagine existing service models, but also embrace new forms of cloud computing.

Your new cloud infrastructure

Insights from 451 Research indicate more than a third (38 per cent) of businesses are shifting their focus to hybrid cloud structures as a core component of their formal cloud strategy.

For many enterprises, particularly outside highly regulated industries where private clouds are often a prerequisite of trading, cloud services will need to be rationalised. In the rush to adopt cloud computing, the focus on the customer has often been lost with the cloud computing models chosen not delivering their expected benefits.

Paul Tacey-Green, cloud director at Amito, explains: “Scalability will figure higher up in decision-making. COVID-19 has shown how important flexibility is, together with ease of scaling. So public cloud will be more attractive and having that option to upgrade is essential for compliance and the cost-benefit.

“The crisis has been a lesson in staying ahead of the curve when it comes to cloud deployment. Having the option to ramp up capacity has been the difference in being able to run your business or not.”

So have businesses that have invested in private cloud made a fundamental mistake? Conversely, will those enterprises that embraced the hybrid cloud approach become leaders in their market sectors? The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. The question facing every company using or planning to use cloud services is which cloud platform they should deploy to gain maximum advantage and future-proof their enterprise’s cloud services.

Indeed, Dave Bartoletti, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, points out we need to be careful when defining hybrid cloud. “Hybrid cloud is not a third type of cloud,” he says. “It’s the situation companies are in when they use a combination of both public and private cloud resources. There are many different ways to deploy hybrid.

“In general, we expect companies to expand their use of public cloud, contract their spending on building private clouds and shift their hybrid balance to be greater on the public cloud side. This shift was already underway; the pandemic will accelerate it.”

Personal cloud computing

Cloud vendors are also reacting to change. The established large-scale suppliers are already responding to the impact the pandemic has had across their customers’ businesses. Is a more boutique approach to cloud services a clear trend?

Gartner predicts that, by 2023, leading cloud service providers will offer a “distributed ATM-like presence to serve a subset of their services for low-latency application requirements”.

Eran Brown, chief technology officer, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at INFINIDAT, comments: “I believe the extreme strain on IT during COVID-19 has exposed every IT organisation’s unique breaking points, and all organisations will learn and adapt based on their own challenges. Since the customers already working in hybrid models suffered the least, they will come out with the upper hand and others will align with their model.”

The so-called new normal businesses are facing will mean an evolution of their cloud computing models. The mix of public versus private cloud and hybrid cloud deployments will be influenced by business processes, customer-facing services, support for mass remote working and how enterprises see their path in a post-COVID-19 world.

Cloud spotting

Private cloud

A private cloud is part of a business's existing LAN (local area network) and resides behind a firewall isolating the servers from the internet. Private clouds often, but not always, involve physical servers on a business's premises. They are usually adopted by companies in highly regulated sectors, such as financial services, as private cloud offers higher levels of direct control and security. Enterprises that want to maintain a level of control over aspects of data storage and application control opt for private cloud deployments.

Public cloud

The public cloud is characterised by services on offer from the established hyperscalers, notably Amazon, Microsoft and Google. Public clouds are fully remote servers accessed via a standard connection to the internet. They offer massive scalability, making them ideal for many customer-facing applications such as ecommerce. Businesses shift the maintenance of cloud infrastructure to the service provider, thus reducing costs. The public cloud does, however, mean reduced security as it uses a shared infrastructure.

Hybrid cloud

Mixing public and private cloud deployments is referred to as the hybrid cloud. Offering high levels of flexibility, hybrid cloud services have become almost the default cloud computing model for most businesses. Hybrid maintains some degree of control on-premises for sensitive data and applications, yet also allows the massive scalability of the public cloud when this is needed. Many businesses have taken advantage of hybrid to scale their cloud deployments. Maintenance and complexity, in particular, need to be carefully considered to avoid security issues.