There is no escaping the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on business technology and computing practices. We all know cloud adoption has been one of the biggest trends in IT over the past decade or so. But in response to COVID, uptake of cloud technology has accelerated sharply.
According to PwC, spending on cloud solutions spiked by 37% during the first quarter of 2020 when the first round of lockdowns swept the globe. Some of the reasons were direct and obvious – the sudden need to facilitate home working when offices and other places of work were shut down, for example, the rush from retailers and hospitality businesses to launch or scale up online services to keep trading at all. From Zoom to takeaway apps, use of cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions boomed.
More broadly, companies which were already running most of their IT systems via the cloud were able to pivot more efficiently to shifts like enforced home working. By contrast, those still running large estates of on-premise assets faced major challenges around networking and accessibility. It is not hard to imagine that this helped many a boardroom look beyond what they saw as the implementation challenges or risks of cloud adoption.
With finances hit hard and operations turned on their head, cloud agnostics have very quickly become true believers in its agility, efficiency and value.
Two of the other touted advantages of cloud computing from an end user’s perspective are simplicity and ease of implementation. Thanks to the hosted ‘as-a-service’ model, businesses no longer need to worry about buying, configuring and managing video conferencing or ecommerce platforms in order to maintain operations digitally. They can sign up for a service and have all of the technically demanding stuff done for them.
Yet the rapid acceleration in cloud adoption we have seen this year is not quite so simple as tens of thousands of firms subscribing to a new set of digital services and continuing on their merry way. Behind every front-end cloud service, there is an infrastructure which supports it. Businesses may be embracing the cloud out of short-term necessity and survival. But every decision to adopt a new service adds a new piece to the company IT infrastructure.
Without careful consideration of how these pieces fit together – in other words, adoption with a clear IT architecture in mind – businesses run the risk of saddling themselves with complex, inefficient infrastructures that are not sustainable or competitive in the long term.
Infrastructure expertise matters
This underlines the value of having expertise in IT infrastructure – especially distributed, digitalised infrastructures – available within a business. There is perhaps a tendency to think that, once you migrate away from on-premise IT to the cloud, infrastructure skills and knowledge aren’t so important anymore. Yet there is a strong case for saying that any business serious about implementing a robust cloud-first approach that optimises the benefits needs these skills more than ever – and perhaps even more so post-COVID.
This is because, as more demand than ever is placed on cloud services, and they continue to diversify and evolve in response, businesses will have to do more and more due diligence to understand exactly what they are getting and how it will be delivered. Questions of scalability and complexity are key here. First, can the provider and data centre hosting a service cope with rapidly increasing demands? Will performance and resilience meet your needs even at times of peak load? Which cloud hosts and data centre operators are best set up to meet these changing demands, and how?
Second, as businesses migrate more and more of their IT assets to the cloud, that in itself raises issues of how differing demands across a complex web of digitised operations are prioritised and managed. Is it better to have a single provider handling the compute, store and network requirements of all your IT assets and services, or does this create too much of a risk from the perspective of service resilience?
If so, how do you allocate individual services to different providers – the so-called ‘multi-cloud’ approach – in a way that is feasibly manageable? Or, do you separate different workloads – for example, by establishing a ‘hybrid’ infrastructure where you outsource processing and networking to the cloud, but handle storage on premises still?
Cloud migration has played an important role in helping thousands of businesses respond to the enormous pressures created by COVID-19 so far. But long term, the cloud does not deliver plug-and-play success – it requires careful strategic planning to get the best from it. Like any operational framework, the infrastructure cloud computing is built on is critical to its success.