To say that the cloud is a common facet of enterprise infrastructure is something of a mistake. While many organizations have embraced the cloud as a means to ramp up storage capacity or even burst workloads during peak activity periods, few have integrated cloud infrastructure into their normal data environments in ways that leading experts say leverages the true value of the technology.
But that may be about to change. New market research is starting to suggest that attitudes are shifting and enterprise executives are warming up to the idea of the cloud as a full functioning extension, or even a replacement, of on-premise infrastructure.
First up is Gartner, which reported recently that cloud computing is on pace to make up half of the total IT market by 2016, with nearly half of all large enterprises deploying hybrid clouds by 2017. The company says virtualization, orchestration, high-speed networking and other cloud-enabling technologies have reached a point at which enterprise executives can finally see the advantages that cloud architectures have over traditional infrastructure, particularly as the industry starts to confront the realities of mobile computing, social networking, Big Data and other trends. The big question for many, however, is whether they will be strictly consumers of cloud services or a provider as well.
Even more telling, however, is a report from U.K. staffing firm Robert Half Technology that claims knowledge of cloud services and architectures is now the most valuable trait for new IT hires. This beat out both security and project management, and vastly out-numbered coding and software development, most likely an indication that many organizations are looking to retain expertise in cloud access and security in-house, while leaving such matters as infrastructure maintenance and even application development to their providers.
The next five years will be a crucial transition period, not just for the enterprise but the entire data ecosystem in general, says tech consultant Daniel Burrus. Every business process in existence is likely to be affected by the cloud, including those that cover buying, selling, marketing, communications, collaboration and education. With IT as a service rapidly gaining steam, the enterprise can refocus its technology agenda from maintenance to innovation, pursuing not only such mundane matters as increased performance and lower costs but finding entirely new business opportunities and delivering new services that clients never knew they needed.
And these trends are likely to accelerate as time goes by, primarily due to increasingly savvy marketing programs from the cloud providers themselves, according to Russell Poole, managing director of UK colocation specialist Equinix. The latest trend is to offer distinct architectural models in the cloud as a means to provide specific services that organizations are looking for. To date, the focus at most organizations is to “get on the cloud” and then see what can be done with it. Going forward, providers will offer targeted solutions to ongoing, seemingly intractable problems, with the added benefit that they can be implemented at lower cost and with much greater speed than traditional, on-premise systems.
Five years is a long time to forecast anything. Heck, go back to all the year-ahead predictions that hit the trade press every December and you’re liable to find just as many misses as hits. But while the details may vary, the broad trend lines seem clear: The cloud is on pace to first reach parity with traditional enterprise infrastructure and then eclipse it by the time we embark on the next decade.
And after that? Well, it could very well be that we won’t be talking about the enterprise anymore, but the data service industry operating largely on a utility basis, which would be cheaper and more efficient, perhaps, but not nearly as interesting.