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Guest blog: Cloud trends of 2021

Alistair Cowan, Principal Architect from Kainos shares his predictions for cloud in 2021.

These days, everyone is already using the Cloud, right? Not so! It’s easy to assume that cloud is ubiquitous across most organisations but over 96% of compute still resides off-cloud in traditional datacentres – quite the eyeopener!

Barriers to cloud adoption evidently still exist for a vast number of organisations – some of these barriers may be very tangible, some perhaps more subjective, for example:

  • A lack of in-house skills is a real challenge for many, while others running highly specialised workloads with complex requirements perhaps don’t yet have confidence that commodity cloud can meet their specific needs.
  • A lack of trust, with concerns around security, privacy and regulatory compliance may reduce the appetite for public cloud.
  • Cultural and political impediments – think a conservative attitude towards risk, a lack of decisionmaker sponsorship, or perhaps even just the simple fear of change and the unknown – can provide just enough inertia to prevent businesses taking the plunge.

COVID-19: The cloud adoption catalyst?

For better or worse (mostly worse, let’s not kid ourselves), 2020 has been a year of turbulent upheaval and powerful transformation – the fallout of which will likely be felt for decades to come. So how has 2020 affected cloud’s standing in the business world?

As entire workforces moved to remote working en masse, IT teams across the globe suddenly found themselves scrambling to react to the entirely new, complex and often entirely unforeseen emergency requirements which seemingly landed on their (now-virtual) desks overnight.

While disruption of this magnitude would represent a significant hurdle for any strong IT department, the instantaneous elasticity, flexibility and proven reliability of cloud service providers will have been the saviour of many an organisation fortunate enough to have a mature cloud adoption strategy.

For many of those organisations still reliant on on-premise datacentre operating models however, the challenge would have represented another level of difficulty as their IT departments moved to procure and provision additional bandwidth, hardware capacity and remote working capabilities into their datacentre racks. Corporate IT security policies and procedures would have presented another major hurdle for many an organisation, as they rushed to refactor longstanding security playbooks to facilitate remote working as an option for the very first time.

So what has 2020 meant for cloud’s standing?

2020 has proven to be the defining moment for public cloud.

Business leaders across the globe have experienced first-hand the lifesaving agility that cloud-centric models can bring to their operations. Many organisations who hadn’t yet seriously started on their journey to cloud will have been forced to overcome their inertia and extend into cloud as an urgent matter of survival, while those already cloud-first in nature have only been reassured that their strategic technical direction is sound.

So, what’s all this likely to mean for 2021 and beyond?

What are the top cloud trends for 2021?

  • Expect a heavily accelerated rate of cloud hybrid and cloud native strategies across an ever-extending range of industry sectors. The rate of increase will be especially predominant for organisations relatively new to cloud, having overcome key barriers to adoption in response to the emergency COVID situation.
  • Cloud-inexperienced organisations who scrambled to deploy hastily built tactical solutions into cloud during COVID are likely to be carrying a significant level of technical debt. These organisations will therefore have goals to de-risk through heavy optimisation of the cost, security, performance, reliability and operational procedures of their cloud services. A significant level of effort will be expended in order to replace the tactical short-term with strategic solutions adhering to Well-Architected principles.
  • Adoption of cloud-centric workflow and collaboration tools (e.g. Office365) and Desktop-as-a-Service offerings (e.g. AWS WorkSpaces) will only continue to surge. An increasing number of organisations will move towards zero-trust architectures, as the focus moves away from traditional network perimeters in favour of SaaS-orientated services.
  • Cloud migration, legacy application modernisation and full-scale digital transformation will be an incredibly important market for cloud vendors and consultancies from 2021 and beyond. The cloud migration and modernisation market is currently estimated to be worth ~$88bn but is expected to grow towards a worth of ~$516bn by 2027. Expect to see cloud vendors focus on releasing a flurry of additional migration-facilitating tools and services – their goal will be to make the transition process as painless as possible for a wide majority of use cases. In the short term, many organisations will begin their migration and transformation journeys with a (relatively) simple lift-and-shift of existing apps and supporting infrastructure, before embarking on longer term strategic re-engineering and digital transformation initiatives in order to fully leverage the benefits of true cloud-native architectures whilst minimising TCO.
  • The demand for true multi-cloud solutions will only increase as organisations aim to reduce their reliance on individual cloud vendors. While platform agnostic solutions such as Kubernetes certainly have the potential to bridge across multiple vendors, challenges still remain – a gap remains in the market for truly credible, reasonable-complexity multi-cloud solutions. Perhaps the newly announced AWS EKS Anywhere could go some way to bridging that gap…
  • The democratisation and application of AI/ML will continue to accelerate. Even before COVID, cloud vendors have already been working at pace to further refine their AI/ML offerings to cover more of the end-to-end process, making those offerings available to the masses whilst also lowering costs. The volume of off-the-shelf Marketplace AI/ML offerings aimed at solving targeted problems is set to expand drastically.
  • Having already covered the vast majority of generalised compute, networking and storage infrastructure requirements, cloud vendors will double down on identifying and closing current limitations relating to running highly-specialised workloads on the cloud. One clear example of this is AWS’s Inferentia and recently-announced Trainium chipsets – expect to see vendors to continue to develop custom solutions to specialised domains.
  • Organisations will struggle to attain the cloud talent required to build and maintain a credible cloud capability. The uncertain global economic outlook will prevent many from launching hiring sprees, instead opting to invest internally, upskilling up their existing staff through cloud training and certifications. Specialist cloud consultancies will remain in high demand as a necessity to bridge internal skills and experience gaps.

2020 was the year the world fully woke up to the importance of the cloud. 2021 and beyond will see organisations building upon this momentum, moving to mature their cloud adoption strategies, kick-off their migration and modernisation initiatives and build out their internal capabilities.


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