What is the cloud? Is it a place where our data lives? Is it a way we deliver and access apps? In the early 2000s, we were so dazzled by its possibilities that it didn’t matter if we understood.
“Cloud became ‘clouded’ as soon as it arrived,” said Corey Quinn, chief cloud economist at The Duckbill Group, which helps companies manage costs in AWS. “It just took companies 15 years to understand the nuances of that.”
All that mattered then was companies “born in the cloud” disrupted every industry with new and improved products and services at affordable costs. We, the customers, ate it up.
So, organizations in both public and private sectors took on a new mission: move to cloud, pronto. Quinn and other cloud experts discuss what happened next — the surprises and evolution of the cloud — in “Clouded: Uncovering the Culture of Cloud.”
Strategizing With Our Heads in the Clouds
Because of how much we still had to learn about cloud, many cloud-first strategies turned out to be not-so-strategic.
“I’ve lost count over the last 10-plus years of the number of senior IT leaders I’ve sat opposite of that said, ‘We’re going to have 50% of our workloads in the public cloud within the next two years,’” said Joe Baguley, vice president and chief technology officer for VMware EMEA. “I’ve not seen anyone do it.”
It turns out moving every app and workload to the cloud isn’t always easy. The technologies businesses tend to rely on the most are some of the riskiest and trickiest to migrate. That’s why we’ve come to talk about it as more of a journey.
“When people are doing migration to the cloud, they will think they can get all thousand workloads over to the cloud in a year,” said Bill Roth, a director of product marketing at VMware and cloud economist. “They tend to come back to us after about a year, and they’ve only got about 10% of that done because they haven’t really looked at what was the cost of migration.”
Cloudy With a Chance of Spiraling Costs
But “The story is not just ‘How am I going to move to the cloud?’” said Roth. “Then what are you going to do afterwards? What is that multi-generational plan?”
Even cloud-ready organizations struggle to operate efficiently once they’re in this unfamiliar, new environment. Most mind-boggling of all might be the bill. Around 4-in-5 organizations using public cloud spend more than needed, according to data in the film.
“The way hyperscalers are asking us to get into the cloud is like freeware, where first it is free or almost free,” said Roth. “And then as you become addicted, you have further downstream problems.”
Hyperscalers make it so simple to provision resources from the cloud that developers and lines of business can quickly accelerate usage and costs. Like other services in our lives, it’s been almost too easy to click subscribe (and forget) during this decade of digital excess. More than three-fourths of enterprises were surprised by the cost of cloud computing or experienced sudden spikes, cites the makers of “Clouded.”
“You need to be careful, and you need to make sure that you have governance in place to keep your cost management on a certain level,” said Thomas Maurer, a chief evangelist for Microsoft Azure.
A Cloud Hangs Over Our Data Sovereignty
Along the rush to adopt it, the cloud became ubiquitous, but the majority of the world’s data ended up with only a few cloud providers in a single country. This presents another set of challenges.
How do companies protect their data, an untouched mine of potential value, from governments and bad actors? Can hyperscalers keep up with the capacity needed to store and process the immense data we rapidly produce? How risky is our world’s huge dependence on a such small number of platforms?
“You cannot believe how business-critical, or critical for the world even I would say, these cloud vendors are today,” said Maurer. “How many businesses rely on them and would not work if it went out?”
That’s why the terms “sovereignty” and “resilience” are now so popular. One way to achieve both is by applying the concepts of cloud to a distributed infrastructure.
“The future of applications is actually as it’s always been: highly distributed,” said Baguley. “It’s not all about putting it in one cloud. It’s about putting it in multiple clouds and then putting multiple elements across multiple physical locations.”
“You don’t necessarily have to be monolithically in the cloud,” said Grant Challenger, director of edge computing at VMware. “There are lots of physical things out there today, and they run on proprietary systems. They can run on commodity hardware and smart software and, as a result of that, actually be more performant and produce better outcomes.”
Additionally, “We can invent a new layer that can stay on top of any existing service and technology and provide the necessary level of trust,” said Francesco Bonfiglio, CEO of GAIA-X, a federated cloud movement in Europe. “Trust equals, in my simple view, three words: transparency, controllability, interoperability.”
Silver Linings: The Multi-Cloud Tipping Point
Moving to the cloud used to mean running a business in a major public cloud. Now, it could mean creating a hybrid cloud infrastructure that also includes a private cloud or an on-premises data center. It might mean operating in a distributed cloud so the business can run at the edge.
It may also mean taking advantage of all these models in a multi-cloud approach. About 64% of organizations now use multiple public clouds, according to The Multi-Cloud Maturity Index by VMware. That number is projected to grow.
With new options and insights available, businesses are finally maturing from “cloud-first” to “cloud-smart.” For 1-in-5 organizations, the pros of cloud finally outweigh the cons.
For example, cloud-smart organizations overwhelmingly agree that a multi-cloud approach positively impacted revenue (97%) and profitability (96%). These respondents also agree that data is easier to manage (92%) and secure (90%) in whichever nation it resides, according to the global report.
We’re still learning how to make the most of this thing called “cloud.” Multi-cloud will carry many organizations through the next waves of change, though, and provide flexibility to adapt and pivot as the next big thing.
“Humans don’t adopt technology as fast as it can evolve,” said Challenger. “We try to make the most of it, and it’s still going. There’s someone doing something that’s evolving that technology or using it in a different way. They’re going to come out showing us all there was a better way to do it.”