How did cloud become mainstream?

How did cloud become mainstream?

When IT started talking about cloud services, most IT practitioners were naysayers and firmly of the opinion that ‘it’ll never catch on’. Yet less than a decade later, cloud seems to have become the default for many organisations. How did this reversal come about?

I remember discussing cloud infrastructure with IT managers and directors in 2010, and there was a lot of scepticism. There were multiple valid concerns about cloud solutions: was cloud infrastructure secure enough? Was the connectivity fast enough and reliable enough? What about latency? And what happens if my data is now stored in another country – does this make it vulnerable to government action, or mean that I need to tell my customers?

I suppose, in part, there was also an element of fear, as they wondered what cloud would mean for their jobs, and those of the people that worked with them.

Since then, cloud seems to have become mainstream, and many of our customers are now favouring cloud over on-premise solutions. But how did this happen, and what does it mean for organisations?

It’s fair to say the shift to cloud has been an evolutionary process, rather than having a single turning point.

One driving factor is that most of us are familiar with using cloud in our personal lives. Hotmail, Gmail, Netflix, Facebook and the like have become a part of everyday life, which has made us comfortable with using cloud applications, and storing our data and photos remotely.

Many organisations first used cloud to address a particular tactical or reactive need. Cloud can provide a simple and fast way of providing compute resource without a large scale infrastructure investment, easily providing additional capacity to handle growth, or to more quickly roll out a campaign or new solution. Initially cloud was more about delivering additional resource or new applications than replacing existing, ageing capacity.

However, once a company starts using cloud, many of the fears diminish and the benefits become clearer. Typically, reliability is very high, with providers often delivering 5 nines availability – way beyond what is realistically achievable on-premise for most organisations.

The UK government’s adoption of a ‘cloud first’ policy in 2013 also did much to endorse cloud use, and earlier this month it was reported that government spending on cloud services had exceeded £750m. 

Additionally, many enterprise software vendors are investing heavily and betting that cloud is the future. Microsoft, whose products remain at the core of most organisation’s infrastructures, has a very clear view that the future is cloud. As well as building its own ‘Azure’ cloud, future product releases are favouring (even incentivising) cloud delivery. For example, Microsoft Office 2016 now offers more features to customers who subscribe, as opposed to purchasing outright.

Increasingly cloud, rather than on premise, is the default position of most of the customers we’re talking to, and on that basis I’d argue that cloud is now mainstream, with mature solutions from a multitude of providers. Improved infrastructure has overcome issues of connectivity, latency, and reliability, and there is much greater clarity on the legal implications of holding data off-site as well as more comfort with the idea.

With many years’ proven operation, cloud providers are able to reassure customers that they are buying in to a well-established, low-risk solution.

Cloud is not the right answer for every application, or for every customer, but it is now mainstream, and should always be evaluated when undertaking IT projects.