The cloud's future
It is impossible to imagine our current IT environment without the cloud, but what exactly is the cloud? And what does the cloud's future look like? Léon van den Bogaert, Manager Cloud Services at CTAC, shares his vision.
What is the cloud?
The last time I visited a cloud provider, I looked up, but saw nothing. Then I looked down and I still saw all those computers in racks somewhere. That tells us something about how relative the term 'cloud' is. Working in the cloud means that your data, software and infrastructure are located in another location than your own, and as a user you usually don't know where that is. It sounds like quite an indefinable thing: my applications are running somewhere and my data are stored somewhere. In the end, there are simply huge computers everywhere that are connected via the internet.
Infrastructure, software and hosting are converging
We see that cloud providers who originally focused on different areas are now converging.
First, there is the infrastructure side. We're talking big public cloud providers like Google, Amazon and Microsoft Azure. They offer virtual servers: Infrastructure-as-a-Service or IaaS. They are currently very busy enriching their platform. Although they started out as a virtual server, they have increasingly moved towards 'as-a-Service': a Database-as-a-Service, a specific functionality or an 'as-a-Service' application.
Second, we see an evolution of application suppliers engaging in forward chain integration. Those are the software companies that originally built and sold software to their customers. They are now increasingly renting out their software for a monthly fee in a subscription format and they have the software running in their cloud: Software-as-a-Service or SaaS.
Finally, there are the hosting companies, which used to manage servers for third parties at their data centres. They too have started to virtualise and are now offering a pay-per-use solution.
These three aspects of the cloud are coming of age and are converging more and more.
Larger proportion of public cloud
Of course, some companies continue to run on-premises solutions. A number of companies are also moving part of their data and processes to the private cloud and part to the public cloud. However, when we consider the entire mix, which has been around for a long time and will always continue to be there, we see that a larger proportion of the public cloud has emerged and that this trend is continuing. The major public cloud providers are currently very much driven by their wish to gain a bigger market share. Anything is possible, one stunt is followed by another and turnover takes precedence over margin. This is a sign that we will now find out who gets to have which piece of the pie.
Curbing the further adoption of the public cloud a little while longer
The further adoption of the public cloud is currently inhibited by the fact that some applications – especially the more critical business applications – are not well suited to handle certain aspects of the cloud, such as infrastructure failures. For example, if an application runs on ten server blocks and one breaks down, the application must continue as normal and the functionality must switch to other parts of that infrastructure dynamically without anyone being affected. Containarisation is the answer to that problem.
Containarisation allows us to dynamically switch small processing units on and off where necessary. That way it doesn't matter if something goes wrong somewhere. It does require that the used software is suitable for running on a distributed infrastructure. Larger business applications such as ERP software are not suitable for this yet, but this is just a matter of time. Soon it will no longer matter what the base layer looks like, as it will be very easy to transfer certain pieces of functionality from one cloud to another. This will result in a much more dynamic solution that allows functionalities to travel dynamically between clouds, as it were. In fact, I expect to see a whole new kind of trading of cloud capacity with fluctuating prices. Ultimately, the cloud will become a commodity. It will be like electricity from a wall outlet.
Choice of infrastructure becoming less and less relevant
Cloud providers are still trying to achieve customer loyalty by providing unique functionalities. Some applications are currently only running in a particular cloud. For example, an ERP solution such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 only runs in the Azure cloud. The question is whether that format will stand firm. We can already see developments in SAP. At first, SAP solutions only worked within the SAP cloud, but we now see that SAP is seeking more and more cooperation with Microsoft, Google or Amazon. SAP also can't afford to run exclusively on its own cloud. The choice of infrastructure is increasingly becoming a matter for the customer.
Capacity brokers and marketplaces
Eventually, we will move towards one big meta-cloud infrastructure. Capacity brokers and capacity marketplaces will enable companies to offer their capacity. For example, when Google sets up a new data centre, it will want to fill the capacity of that data centre. The equipment is there, so the costs will stay the same whether it is empty or full. This capacity will be put up for sale, because in the end, when we strip off all the layers, those servers need to be paid for.
Different conditions at different prices
This is also a good opportunity to see how well the marketing machines are doing their job. Of course, the cloud is very flexible and we can scale up and down as required, but the competitive prices are the prices that are valid with guaranteed capacity use. Those who can guarantee that a certain capacity will be used will pay a very different price than those who buy capacity on a pay-per-use basis in order to be truly flexible and scalable. Always pay close attention to the conditions that apply to certain prices. This is already the case today and will be even more so in the future.
Would you like to know more?
If you would like to talk about the future of the cloud and what that may mean for your business, feel free to contact me at Leon.van.den.Bogaert@ctac.nl.