Everyone knew the cloud was going to be big when the term first appeared in tech circles five or so years ago. But the speed at which it is taking over data infrastructure and the enthusiasm it has generated in the enterprise are surprising nonetheless.
As a rule, the enterprise does not alter the fundamentals of its data infrastructure lightly – even the transition from one core switch or centralized server or storage platform to another is a study in careful planning, particularly when a change in product lines or vendors is on the table. So when word came down that organizations could remove virtual architectures to entirely new resource sets that are not even controlled by the enterprise, there was every reason to think that maybe this would happen, someday.
But someday seems to be approaching at lightning speed if the latest research is to be believed. Goldman Sachs recently projected that spending on cloud computing and infrastructure will jump from today’s $16 billion – which is already a three-fold increase from the beginning of the decade – to more than $43 billion by 2018. And according to CenturyLink, 2020 will unfold with upwards of 70 percent of IT infrastructure residing in the cloud, nearly the opposite of what it is today. And reports coming in from the field indicate that most organizations expect to see improved service in the cloud compared to legacy infrastructure, as well as lower costs.
Like a boulder rolling downhill, the pace of the transition is expected to increase as the decade unfolds, according to Connecticut research firm Saugatuck Technology. Whether it is a private cloud, a hosted private cloud or a full public cloud, the rate of change will accelerate as familiarity with the technology increases. Beyond 2020, however, expect outsourced solutions to continue gaining shares of the primary data load while internal clouds will start to flatline and then eventually trail off. For traditional non-cloud infrastructure, the writing is already on the wall: Only 25 percent of IT shops have upgraded key functions like backup/recovery, systems management and application performance monitoring in recent years, an indication that the next big change will be to the cloud.
For the investor class, this is starting to smell like money in the bank, says tech consultant Brett Relander. Nasdaq reported recently that revenues from cloud services grew 60 percent in the last year alone, suggesting that investment in the sector is likely to produce a healthy return. Relander cautions, however, that not all clouds are the same, and profits will undoubtedly vary across SaaS, PaaS and IaaS offerings as well as individual providers. It is also possible that before too long we will start to see specialized cloud offerings targeting key functions like Big Data analytics, collaborative services and data mobility, creating even more divisions in an already diverse sector.
The cloud would not be the first technology to be overhyped, of course, and the usual consequence of that is an investment bubble followed by a sharp downturn. This is why it helps to peer through the misconceptions surrounding the cloud to the hidden realities, says A.J. Clark, president of Thermopylae Sciences and Technology. In the first place, the cloud is not a better, cheaper way to support legacy systems and applications. As many enterprises are finding out, simply migrating legacy environments to the cloud is a big no-no as performance tends to suffer when underlying infrastructure suddenly shifts from the finite predictability of the data center to the abstract diversity of the cloud. As well, the cloud is not always a cheaper solution considering that the cost of leased resources and services can mount as time goes by and loads increase. None of this should suggest the cloud is a big fraud, but neither is it the data panacea that many backers make it out to be.
It seems that the only thing certain about the cloud at this point is its inevitability. For good or ill, the technology is now being propelled by the forces it has unleashed –namely the anticipation of good things ahead and the fear of being left behind – and no matter how the markets or the technology shake out, the enterprise will find itself on a very different infrastructure footing as the next decade unfolds.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.