According to research from McKinsey & Company, 90% of executives feel the changes brought on in 2020 will fundamentally alter the way they do business in the next five years. But less than 30% feel equipped to capture these new growth opportunities.
As capabilities from the Internet of Things (IoT), cognitive services, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and even Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality (AR/MR) shift from being key differentiators to everyday expectations, keeping up with the rate of technological change will become increasingly essential to maintaining a competitive edge — and driving new revenue.
Fortunately, these technologies are not only more critical than ever, but also more within reach.
In the past, solutions such as real-time data analytics and machine learning were limited to the realms of technological giants. However, over the past few years, public cloud providers have made these capabilities more affordable and easier to access and deploy at speed and scale.
The broad democratisation of rich technologies in the public cloud has empowered modern organisations to unlock innovation and drive ongoing digital transformation — laying the groundwork for future resiliency and growth.
The Flexera 2020 State of the Cloud Report reveals 90% of organisations now use at least one cloud service — and both adoption and spend rates are on the rise. In fact, 59% of enterprises expect this year’s cloud usage to exceed prior plans, largely due to shifts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But even before current circumstances triggered or accelerated new use cases in the cloud, predictions from Gartner projected cloud service revenue would reach $331 billion by 2022, up from $175.8 billion in 2018.
The reasons for this are clear.
The public cloud offers a cost-effective, scalable approach that empowers organisations to start with small deployments and expand their infrastructure to support growth over time. It provides ease of geographical expansion, allowing businesses to reach new markets instantaneously without the need to build out traditional infrastructure around the globe. It also simplifies many of the challenges associated with deploying innovative technologies, as the underlying infrastructure is largely managed by the cloud provider. This allows teams to shift a greater portion of their focus to innovation rather than simply “keeping the lights on.”
To further support today’s priorities, organisations are increasingly turning to Platform as a Service (PaaS), serverless and cloud-native models over traditional Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) for simplified management and greater scalability of applications.
While “lifting and shifting” workloads with minimal modification through IaaS is often the quickest path to the cloud, it also has the smallest margins for Return on Investment (ROI) over time. Through 2024, Gartner predicts almost all legacy applications migrated to the public cloud through IaaS will require some level of optimization to improve performance and cost effectiveness. This is because simply treating the public cloud like another data center, rather than taking advantage of access to a broad range of cloud-native features, means missing out on many of the benefits that create true business value — particularly those related to innovation.
Those of us in the industry are familiar with the notion, “You don’t choose multicloud — multicloud chooses you.” And for good reason. As mergers and acquisitions have forced businesses to evolve over the past few years, many have embraced hybrid and multicloud solutions out of necessity for greater flexibility, control and availability. Flexera reports a staggering 93% of those currently using a cloud service now have a multicloud strategy in place.
But beyond the incidental multicloud strategy, organisations are beginning to recognise the benefits of actively leveraging the opportunity to support innovation.
Companies with greater cloud maturity and larger numbers of diverse teams now have the option to select the cloud platform that works best for individual projects. This allows teams to take advantage of best-in-class services, policies, procedures and even geographic reach provided through each cloud platform.
While some may turn to Google Cloud for its rich data analytics and reporting capabilities, others may prefer Azure or AWS to support mobile applications, IoT or edge computing. Capitalising on various differences in technology creates a more robust cloud strategy capable of supporting a variety of innovative products and services.
Additionally, while a single cloud provider offers greater availability, resiliency and redundancy, the use of multiple providers increases compound Service-Level Agreements (SLAs) for greater business continuity.
The biggest challenge when it comes to any cloud strategy is finding an approach that allows your business to take full advantage of the benefits.
According to the 2020 State of Enterprise Cloud Adoption and Security report, 85% of IT professionals believe cloud adoption is necessary for their organisation to drive innovation and remain competitive, citing the agility of cloud services as a key differentiator between stagnation and growth.
This sense of urgency around innovation is driven by foreboding estimates that nearly 50% of S&P 500 organisations will no longer exist in a decade. Innosight’s biennial corporate longevity forecast reveals the average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 narrowed from 33 years back in 1964 to 24 years by 2016 — and is projected to shrink to just 12 years by 2027.
The challenge to disrupt or be disrupted means today’s IT teams are under more pressure to shift from a cost center to a profit center. An effective public cloud strategy supports the ability to rapidly define, develop and deploy innovative solutions without the need to manage complex infrastructure.
A traditional approach to developing an AI-based solution, for example, would require a highly skilled team of experts to build out the data center, procure new hardware, implement new security features and then write analytics models — processes which could easily take a full year to complete. But with the cloud, AI capabilities can be accessed virtually on demand.
All three major cloud hyperscalers (Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and AWS) offer various tools and pipelines for developing, training and running neural networks. Simple Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) significantly reduce complexity around otherwise intricate architectural challenges, including big data, AI and machine learning. These capabilities enable teams to rapidly respond to changes in the market, adopt new use cases and develop new solutions without having to build from the ground up.
Automation tools available through the public cloud also increase velocity while decreasing the manual effort of provisioning and managing cloud workloads — often reducing timelines from months or weeks to days or minutes. Faster, more frequent feedback loops accelerate learnings and enable development teams to continuously deliver value for customers and the business. Automation also improves overall product quality by minimizing the potential for security breaches and instances of human error.
So how do you begin to maximise your cloud investment to make the most of cloud-native services and capabilities, all while adopting from a solid foundation that enables speed, control and innovation?
Following a Cloud Adoption Framework (CAF) like those offered by major cloud providers is key to maximising value and minimizing risk. An effective CAF will provide the roadmap and structures to evaluate existing cloud maturity, support the development of new skills, create or update processes, and address any gaps along the way.
This critical step lays the foundation and installs the guardrails necessary to enable innovation moving forward. But beyond basic best practices, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First and foremost, avoid the temptation to lift and shift. Instead, take the time to optimise workloads for the cloud environment. At minimum this means right sizing and scheduling virtual machines or servers so that they’re “aware” they’re in the cloud.
Second, use abstraction wherever possible — particularly when your organisation relies on multiple cloud providers. Moving data is costly, so rather than relying on cloud-native tech, take the time to abstract workflows to enable greater reusability, portability and flexibility across environments.
Finally, reduce complexity with the introduction of a cloud management platform. Whether you choose to build out your own or select an existing vendor platform, the ability to monitor and manage your ecosystem through a single pane of glass is essential to the success of your cloud strategy.
There are a variety of tools and technologies available to help you unlock and accelerate innovation in the cloud.
Containers and Kubernetes have revolutionised the way we develop and deploy applications. This modular approach enables organisations to run workloads anywhere, deploying the same containers across platforms without the need to rebuild. Many development teams already use this approach, but it should be noted, containers aren’t appropriate for every workload. There may be instances where a platform may reduce the complexity of security, monitoring and logging, so it’s important to evaluate the benefits on a case-by-case basis.
HashiCorp Terraform is a multicloud provisioning and abstraction tool which allows users to write a single provisioning workflow that can be run in any major cloud platform without the need to rebuild. The ability to leverage consistent syntax improves reusability and reduces the need to retain specific expertise across various deployment methodologies — which, in today’s multicloud world, is essential. Terraform also integrates extremely well with CI/CD and DevOps pipelines for seamless consistency across the development cycle.
Azure Arc is a unique hybrid cloud management platform that allows organisations to organise and manage servers, databases and Kubernetes clusters no matter where they reside. A rich policy engine enables governance across Azure, AWS, GCP and even on-premises databases at scale, providing the backbone for your Kubernetes strategy. Azure Arc also allows you to manage and centralise logging and analytics across workloads. Perhaps best of all, it works right out of the box without the need for modification.
Google Anthos is a hybrid cloud management platform for app modernisation. Built on Kubernetes by the makers of Kubernetes and Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), it’s designed to provide configuration management for centralised governance and policy across cloud, on-premises and edge workloads. Based and run in the cloud, Anthos delivers the flexibility and portability to move between GCP and other cloud-enabled clusters. The Anthos Service Mesh provides visibility and control over traffic flows while binary authorisation ensures clusters only run the workloads you want to run.
Beyond embracing best practices and tools, it’s important to be mindful and intentional about building your cloud ecosystem. There’s no one right answer, but certain approaches will be a better fit for your organisation’s goals than others.
This can make the prospect of designing a public cloud strategy seem overwhelming, especially since every provider has their own way of doing things. But partnering with an expert can help you navigate procurement, management and delivery across your cloud environment — accelerating time to value without the need to dramatically expand or upskill your internal team.
Today, cloud providers increasingly rely on vendors to improve their ability to deliver services, raising demands for certification density and third-party validation. This means organisations now have access to more skilled sources of expertise and support than ever before, bringing an effective cloud strategy within reach.
With the right plan, tools and resources in place, your organisation can begin to leverage the power of the public cloud to achieve the agility and resilience needed to tackle today’s challenges and drive future growth.