This post was originally published on ThoughtsOnCloud on June 17th, 2014.
I’ve been a cloud architect for the last three years or so and have seen dramatic changes in the IT industry and its view of cloud. I’ve also observed different attitudes to cloud in different industries and countries.
I took on the cloud architect role because I saw that customers were asking about cloud, but they all had different ideas of what this meant. Depending on whom they spoke to first they could think it was hosted managed software as a service, or they could think it was on-premise dynamic infrastructure—or many other permutations between. My job was created to talk to them at the early stage, explain the full scope of what it means, to look at their business requirements and workloads and align them to the most appropriate solution.
Three years later you would hope that it’s all a lot clearer and in many ways it is, but there are still preconceptions that need to be explained, and also the cloud technologies themselves are moving so rapidly that it’s hard enough for people like me to stay abreast of it, let alone the customers.
To begin, I noticed some fairly obvious differences, many of which still hold. The large financial institutions wanted to keep their data on premise, and they had large enough IT departments that it made sense for them to buy the hardware and software to effectively act as cloud service providers to their lines of business. Some investment banks saw their technology as a key differentiator and asked that I treat them as a technology company rather than a bank, so they didn’t want to give away the ownership of IT, the attributes of cloud that they were looking for were standardisation, optimisation and virtualisation.
On the other hand I was working with retail companies and startups who saw IT as an unnecessary cost, a barrier to their innovation. They saw cloud as a form of outsourcing, where a service provider could take on the responsibility of looking after commodity IT and let them focus on their core business.
A third industry is government and public sector. This is very different in the UK to other countries. In the United States, the government is investing in large on-premise cloud solutions, and this avoids many of the security and scalability issues. In the UK, with a new government following the global financial crisis, there is an austerity programme, which led to the Government ICT Strategy and Government Digital Strategy and the announcement of the Cloud First Policy. This requires that government bodies use hosted, managed cloud offerings, as well as encouraging the use of open source and small British providers.
Our health sector is also very different to the U.S., with our public sector National Health Service being one of the largest employers in the world, whereas in the U.S. health has much more of an insurance focus.
Over the years in all industries there has been a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt about the location of data and whether or not there are regulations that make this an issue. I’m glad to say that we’ve now worked through a lot of this and it’s a lot clearer to both the providers and the consumers.
In practice most of the cloud investment that happened was infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Much of this was private cloud, with some usage of public cloud IaaS.
We used to have a lot of interest from customers, whether they be meteorological or academic research, looking for high performance computing clouds. This made a lot of sense, as the hardware required for this is very expensive and some customers only need it for short periods of time, so to have it available on a pay as you go basis was very attractive. Last year, IBM acquired SoftLayer, which includes bare metal IaaS as well as virtualised. This means that HPC cloud is more attainable and with this has come a change of perception of cloud from virtualisation and closer to the hosted, utility based pricing view.
The big change this year is the move from IaaS to platform as a service (PaaS). With the nexus of forces of mobile devices (phones, tablets, wearable devices, internet of things), social media generating large amounts of unstructured data, and high performance broadband, there is a new demand and ability to deliver cloud based mobile apps connecting and exploiting data from multiple sources. This reflects a shift in the IT industry from the systems of record, which store the traditional, fairly static, structured data, to the new systems of engagement, which are much more about the dynamic customer interface and access to the fast changing data.
Developers are becoming key decision makers. They often work in the line of business and want to create business solutions quickly, without the blocker of the traditional IT department. Optimising the speed to market of business solutions by using IaaS, devops has been the first step in this. Now customers are looking to PaaS to give them immediate access to the whole software development environment of infrastructure as well as the necessary middleware for developing, testing, and delivering solutions quickly and reliably with minimal investment. This also includes the new open source middlewares and hyperpolyglot languages.
Finally, SaaS. We are talking to many companies, public sector bodies, and education establishments, who want to become entirely IT free. They don’t want a data centre and they don’t want developers. This requirement is now becoming achievable as IBM and others are committed to making a significant proportion of their offerings available as SaaS solutions. Of course, this brings new challenges around hybrid cloud integration and federated security.
Do my views of the trends in UK cloud align to yours? I’d love to see your comments on this.