Looking forward to the future of cloud computing

Imagine a world where anyone in your organisation can source computing capacity automatically and use this resource to run technology-led projects that will help disrupt your business for the better.

Cloud is the generator for the next wave of technologies, the enabler for all the exciting developments

That’s the vision for the development of cloud computing during the next decade. Movement towards this cloud-first vision of business is already being established. The cloud industry has matured rapidly during the past decade and the technology is now embedded across enterprises, regardless of size and sector.

The cloud is an essential element of any innovative strategy

Take the approach of Alex von Schirmeister, chief digital, technology and innovation officer at retail specialist RS Components, who says his firm is becoming increasingly confident when it comes to the cloud. “Our data no longer needs to be sitting on our own infrastructure and data no longer needs to sit in one physical premise – those days are over,” he says.

Yet the game is far from won. Gregor Petri, research vice president at analyst Gartner, says there is a popular belief the cloud is already a business-as-normal activity. However, this view is a misconception and only a small amount of enterprises run significant workloads on the cloud, he says. “There’s still a long way to go,” says Mr Petri.

The transition to the cloud during the next decade will not simply be a process of lifting and shifting existing on-premise applications. While some legacy apps will have to be transformed to run on the cloud, others will not. Instead, the future cloud is best thought of as a platform for the implementation of innovative technologies and services.

“These new, disruptive technologies, which are too expensive to run today, will make up the majority of things that are running on the cloud in the future,” says Mr Petri. These technologies include application programming interfaces, internet of things, artificial intelligence, serverless computing and new interactive services, such as virtual reality and blockchain.

Enterprises will run these innovations on the cloud, agrees Alex Hilton, chief executive of the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF). “Cloud is the generator for the next wave of technologies, the enabler for all the exciting developments,” he says. CIF research suggests just 12 per cent of IT budgets will be spent on legacy technology by 2022 as cloud usage increases.

How demand for access to computing power will shape the sector

Such easy access to computing power creates exciting possibilities for the future. Enterprises will use the cloud as a scalable foundation for the creation of new business models, says Kevin Curran, professor of cybersecurity at Ulster University and senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

“This massive cloud computing power with instant response will make intelligence on demand available for everyone, everywhere. New business models, where devices are boosted by inexhaustible cloud-based resources, will begin to emerge,” he says.

The focus on disruption during the next decade has clear implications for the cloud industry. Ten years, of course, is a long time horizon and, in terms of technology, the potential for change is enormous. As yet unheralded providers will bubble up and challenge established cloud industry players.

But independent analyst Clive Longbottom believes most enterprises will continue to use large, hyperscale cloud providers instead of smaller specialists. The major players, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google and IBM, wield significant power and this will not wane, he says.

Cloud industry behemoths will use their power to focus on innovation and acquisition in the coming years. He says they will create a portfolio of additional functionalities, such as search and database technologies, that will support the creation of disruptive, cloud-based services.

“The answer is not a private or a public cloud or even a mix of the two, but a dynamic and mixed cloud of, more often than not, a private cloud mixed with a range of public cloud services, including infrastructure, platform and software-as-a-service,” says Mr Longbottom.

Secret to scalability is cloud-first computing strategy

An assessment of the broad mix of provision is familiar to Richard Gifford, chief information officer (CIO) at logistics giant Wincanton. He is running a modernisation strategy that involves application consolidation and a new cloud-based transport management system. This initiative is a multi-million-pound project with board-level sponsorship.

“It’s about digitally enabling our IT infrastructure,” says Mr Gifford. “The aim is to create a cloud-first strategy. This approach will give Wincanton the scalability it needs as business demands change.”

This type of cloud-first use-case demonstrates the increasing maturity of cloud computing. Its continued development will rely on firms being able to make the most of the products and services the cloud industry generates. A dynamic, mixed cloud might be the objective, but many CIOs still discover that moving data between providers is an intractable challenge.

The cloud industry moving towards greater openness

While vendor lock-in remains a concern, Stephan Fabel, director of product at IT firm Canonical, says the cloud industry and business leaders are showing a new commitment to openness and open-source tools. He says the adoption of “LEGO-like building blocks”, through specialist tools such as Kubernetes and OpenStack, will help bring order to the cloud.

Barry Libenson, global CIO at financial data company Experian, believes technology leaders are already beginning to create standardised cloud strategies that recognise the importance of openness. It’s an approach he’s implemented at his own firm and Mr Libenson believes many cloud providers are embracing openness, too.

“I think the good news is the industry is sort of moving in that direction as well,” he says. “While some of the cloud providers would love for you to use their native services because of the lock-in it potentially creates, I would say the industry is largely focused on flexibility and a recognition that portability is highly desirable.”