Do Businesses Dream of the Public Cloud?

In as little as a decade the public cloud has emerged from nowhere providing the dream of consumption based computing to businesses across the world.  Gone are the days of large capital outlays and long lead times to provision infrastructure, nor is there a need to securely run privately owned physical datacentres or host infrastructure such as servers and networking equipment in third party owned hosted datacentres.

All that is needed now to provision huge swathes of infrastructure (IaaS), platform (Paas) and software services (SaaS) is a laptop, a network connection, a browser and optionally a command line session – oh, and not forgetting a credit card.

Early on in the cloud computing era, traditional organisations such as in the finance and government sectors, often viewed cloud computing as suspicious, something that was not to be trusted because “how could the public cloud ever be as secure as my own data centre?” or “I want to have physical control of my data”.

The reality is now that a lot of these traditional barriers to cloud adoption have been eroded to the point of obliteration due to a simple single reason: cost.

A decade of investment and the occasional price war by the public cloud providers, particularly the two biggest: Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure, have meant that they have greater geographic reach and a large catalogue of services that it is becoming ever harder to ignore them if you are serious about running your business using IT.  Not to mention that both of these public cloud providers support marketplaces that allow third party companies to offer their own services, to provide a frictionless way to provision and use third party cloud services as part of a cloud solution alongside the first party services of the public cloud providers.

So, when it comes to adopting the public cloud, in what ways are businesses considering the jump?  After all, cloud adoption, particularly for traditional businesses that have made huge investments in on-premise IT infrastructure, is likely to be a staged affair.

The Three Waves of Public Cloud Adoption

First Wave

The lure of computing on demand with zero lead times for provisioning infrastructure and with a perceived simpler operational management overhead has proved too much for even some of the largest organisations.  In a lot of cases, IT is seen as an overhead to the business rather than an enabler to more efficient operations, better ROI and increased profitability; so, the chance to reduce the overhead is seen as a quick win, a way to ‘lift and shift’ IT to reduce costs but to all other intents and purposes, continue on in the same vein as before.

The lift and shift of IT to the cloud typically starts with virtual machines and virtual networks with private secure VPN links to allow office workers to continue to operate without too much disruption.  It often mimics the on-premise configuration as much as possible.  In terms of getting to grips with and understanding the magnitude of the cloud, this offers the least mind bending option.

It would be remiss not to mention hybrid cloud solutions when it comes to the first wave.  For larger organisations a hybrid solution can make sense during the transition to the public cloud, just by virtue of the fact that some migration strategies can be complicated and time consuming.  There is also the risk associated with potential incompatibilities of running on-premise applications in the public cloud, or in some cases the inability for existing workloads to move to the public cloud, such as those running on legacy mainframes or requiring specialised hardware, means that hybrid solutions can help to alleviate the pressure of a large migration and offer a partial path to the public cloud.

Second Wave

The more enlightened of organisations see the public cloud and the myriad of services that are offered as a way of not only taking advantage of cost savings and the one-click provisioning of IT infrastructure, but also as a way of re-imagining their IT operations and applications to further reduce costs and increase operational agility and to provide a greater service to their customers with systems that are more secure, always on and accessible from anywhere.

After the lift and shift of IT services has been completed and further cost savings are desired, re-architecting core applications to take advantage of the cloud and the native platform and software services that are available is a natural next step.  Once the cloud has been comprehended to some degree, then the possibilities of improved development and operational capability germinate and businesses seek to capitalise on this to streamline even further.

For those businesses that are new and going straight to the cloud (why wouldn’t they?), they have skipped the first wave.  Just as the millennials have never seen life prior to the iPod, so the second wavers have never known what it is like to buy, operate and watch IT infrastructure depreciate into decrepitude only for the cycle to begin again.

Third Wave

Finally there are the organisations that are ahead of the curve and are thinking about the competitive advantage they can enjoy by fully embracing the cloud and its ability to offer vast computing power, cavernous storage capacity and internet level scale that would make even the largest of organisations quake at the capital cost; to use the on-demand resources to constantly ask questions of their data, to provide deep insights on a near real time basis so that every ounce of profitability can be wrung out of their offerings to their customers.

At this stage, organisations no longer see IT as a way of running cost effective, efficient services.  It is used as a way to gain advantage over others, to squeeze the margins because the data insights are accurate, fresh and available straight away that instead of being behind the curve, organisations can look to beyond the curve, to anticipate demands and trends.

Fourth Wave?

Is there a fourth wave?  Will we experience a fourth wave of adoption?  Will cognitive services, robotics and AI underpin the next wave of applications built on the cloud and be considered the fourth wave?

Cloud services are already becoming available in this area to organisations and products such as Amazon’s Echo shows us a glimpse into the sorts of applications that organisations can start to consider offering and to think of ways to not simply sell products and services to customers but to enrich their lives.  Surely only the sheer capacity of computing, storage and services the cloud offers on a consumption basis can effectively support this theoretical wave.

The Future

Fast forward a few years, businesses will wonder how they ever operated without the public cloud and will look back on the days of private datacentres with water cooled mainframes, halon fire systems and false floors with plumbing more complicated than public sewage processing plants with the same disbelief that millennials probably do with music cassette tapes, VHS and only five channels on the TV *.

For those in the cloud business, such as ourselves in 345, with software and consulting practices and running and operating our own business entirely in the cloud, the future looks very bright indeed.

* In the UK before satellite services, on-demand television and streaming services there was only BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.  Life’s a bitch…