Cloud technology has matured substantially during the past 15 years, and now a paradigm shift is taking place, away from legacy in-house IT business services to a cloud-first technology-driven agile workplace.
IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS are now seasoned and trusted technologies. AI and machine learning are helping to advance medical and scientific research, and big business relies heavily on team collaboration tools and cloud-based office suites.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing at an exponential rate, with some estimates suggesting that there will be more than 20 billion connected devices by the end of 2020. But what does the future look like?
Here are five trends in cloud computing for organizations to consider when plotting an IT infrastructure strategy.
1. Edge Computing
Edge computing is already widely used, and the technology implementation is growing considerably. If the cloud has one potential weakness, it may be that cloud providers are large, centralized entities. This is great if you live near a cloud provider’s data center or external point of presence, but it may cause issues if you are overseas or in a remote location. Furthermore, if you’re processing huge volumes of data, you’re reliant on your network bandwidth and the cloud provider’s available resources to get the job done quickly.
IoT is a great example to explain this, consisting of billions of endpoint devices such as smartphones, smart homes, digital sensors, medical equipment, cars, household appliances, and even vending machines. These devices transmit billions of values at regular occurrences during the day, resulting in huge quantities of data being fed upstream to the cloud.
This is where edge computing comes into play. A cloud edge is a localized data center or service point of presence that consists of powerful servers and fast storage. Cloud providers offset the load from applications and many other active jobs to the cloud edge presence. This introduces rapid processing, low latency, and ultra-fast data transfers.
The edge almost acts as a caching platform for the cloud by processing demanding endpoint tasks and transferring the data back to the cloud sequentially. Edge computing releases huge amounts of processing power from the cloud provider’s infrastructure — and bandwidth usage plummets.
In addition, the edge introduces a major benefit for business compliance. Many companies must keep sensitive business data onshore, often for regulatory reasons. Edge computing ensures that data is localized and compliant while still allowing businesses to take advantage of cloud technology.
2. Cloud Automation
Many technologists are already aware of the substantial benefits the cloud can introduce with automation. This includes the automation of infrastructure, software development, and software releases with CI/CD. Businesses are turning to automation to help tackle the complexity of managing multiple private, public, and hybrid cloud environments with limited manpower.
Infrastructure automation tools such as Ansible and Terraform are already cloud-agnostic, meaning that the automation software is compatible with any cloud provider. These tools create an opportunity to automate the provisioning of identical and secure computing infrastructure into any cloud platform.
These automation tools allocate cloud-specific credentials, IP networks, and subnet allocations, as well as automate the integration to extended cloud services such as cloud databases, cloud edge, or cloud directory services.
From 2020 and beyond, there will be a greater reliance on artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) being used to drive cloud automation decision-making. AI/ML can automate routine, repeatable tasks at scale that can be completed remarkably fast when compared to a human operator.
Specific use cases might be extensive log analysis. AI/ML routines ingest huge volumes of logging information, look for trends, and analyze results. This can be used to predict server component failure or the reasons applications may crash. Capacity planning benefits greatly from cloud automation, as accurate predictions can be made on forecasting infrastructure needs.
3. Industry-Optimized Clouds
Organizations around the globe are rapidly migrating to the cloud. This is driving a growing trend of providing tailor-made cloud service offerings for specific industries. This often applies to target highly regulated industries such as healthcare, finance, and the legal sector.
Some cloud service providers have consumable, industry-specific cloud platforms that are already compliant with the relevant U.S. legislation. The outsourcing business just needs to choose an appropriate provider to start consuming industry-compliant services.
Take healthcare, for example. HIPAA and HITECH legislation is a mandatory, enforceable set of physical, administrative, and technical safeguards introduced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to protect electronic Patient Health Information (ePHI). HIPAA-compliant hosting is available to any healthcare practice, hospital, or private physician. This offloads some of the responsibility and complexity of the healthcare provider going it alone.
4. Cloud Agnostic Strategy
Another key trend being played out in 2020 is the desire of all CIOs to reach the utopian workspace of being a cloud-neutral consumer of technical services. What that means in English is that you do not want all of your cloud services to be in one single cloud provider. Ideally, core business services should be spread out among multiple cloud providers to dramatically reduce the risk of downtime or prolonged outages.
The hybrid cloud model is becoming increasingly popular. There are many types of hybrid models, and they tend to be personalized for an organization’s needs. This may include core infrastructure services staying in-house for the short term, possibly due to legacy application issues. Concurrently, new IT services are architected in the cloud. A very popular choice is migrating to a cloud email service provider or moving the workforce to Office 365.
A cloud-agnostic strategy will help to optimize an organization’s ROI, introduce superior security and better performance, and above all else, protect in the event of a disaster scenario. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this need greatly. Separating cloud services can protect a business if the local site was shut down due to staff having to work from home.
The popularity of containers in 2020 is particularly significant for the cloud. Container usage has exploded since the release of Docker in 2013 and Kubernetes in 2014. Many cloud providers now have their own container app engines, which are sold as consumable cloud services. There is no longer a need for system administrators to worry about building virtual machines and underlying infrastructure.
DevOps teams can quickly deploy containers of applications directly on top of a cloud application layer. Multiple programming languages are supported by Go, Python, and Java, which are a few of the most popular. Developers concentrate on building the application container, and the DevOps team implements the application when needed.
This approach creates portability between different platforms, improved security, and scalability, as well as faster application load times; combined with the fact that containers are considerably more efficient than a bloated virtual machine.
The five cloud trends we have identified for 2020 and beyond are already starting to take precedence in many businesses’ cloud strategies. All five trends are seeing significant growth and will continue to be embedded as digital transformation initiatives mature. Cloud providers are pushing for edge computing to ensure the cloud continues to perform well as the entire world shifts into cloud computing.
There is little doubt that containers will overtake VMs as the defacto choice for cloud instances. The technology is maturing rapidly, and Kubernetes and service mesh technology is widespread. Infrastructure as code and CI/CD pipelines are growing in popularity as developers continue to simplify their cloud automation products.
Industry-specific clouds are expected to grow. We see this with U.S. government-specific cloud regions proliferating. The only question is whether a cloud-agnostic strategy will change from being a desirable to a practical solution, especially as businesses realize the costs to implement and traverse data between solutions.