The 2020 IDG Cloud Computing Survey

Not long ago, if you were a business stakeholder or IT manager, you had to work hard to explain exactly why you would opt for applications or infrastructure in the public cloud. Today, in many organizations, you’re more likely to get pushback when you try to justify deploying a workload in your own data center, where resources are precious.

IDG’s 2020 Cloud Computing Survey puts some fresh data behind this paradigm shift. In our poll of 551 tech buyers, all of whom are involved in the purchase process for cloud computing, one number rises to the top: 59 percent said they planned to be “mostly” (43 percent) or “all” (16 percent) in the cloud in 18 months, up from 38 percent who say they are mostly or all in the cloud today.

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That’s one heck of an adoption curve. What’s driving it? Not necessarily cost savings, because that assumes you can make meaningful comparisons between the cost to run workloads in the cloud versus on prem – a maddeningly complex, apples-to-oranges endeavor.

The real benefits of cloud computing are in agility, scalability, and future potential.

Need an application in a hurry? You can spin up your application in the cloud in a fraction of the time it would take on prem, where traditional procurement and provisioning processes get in the way. Need to throw more compute at a workload? Do it with a few clicks – or configure an application so it can scale automatically as needed. Want access to the latest, most exciting new tech advances? Most often they appear in the cloud first, fully provisioned for you to exploit on a whim.

Those advantages and more account for the accelerating cloud momentum clearly evident in the 2020 Cloud Computing Survey. Let’s dig into the results.

Crossing the cloud chasm

Another key stat that jumps out in the 2020 Cloud Computing Survey is 92 percent – the share of organizations that are at least “somewhat” in the cloud.

Even more impressive is the cloud budget increase. When respondents were asked how much they planned to spend on cloud computing over the next 12 months, the average investment came in at $73.8 million – up a whopping 59 percent from 2018.

Our survey was completed before the economic downturn took hold, so very likely that dollar amount has dropped. But it’s an open question whether the average cloud portion of the IT spend planned for next 12 months – 32 percent – will persist or perhaps even increase in the face of the downturn, because cloud projects do not require a capital investment up front.

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The cloud is all about applications. Either you use an IaaS platform such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure to deploy an application you’ve built yourself, or you open an account with a SaaS provider – of which there are thousands, from Adobe to Anaplan to Atlassian to Google to Microsoft to Okta to Oracle to Salesforce to SAP to Slack.

Here again, the 2020 Cloud Computing Survey offers bullish results. In the next 18 months, respondents said their organizations’ share of SaaS (versus on-prem) applications would rise to 36 percent, up from 24 percent currently. By the same token, the share of cloud (versus on-prem) infrastructure as a platform for application development will reach an estimated 48 percent, compared to 42 percent today. Considering the sunk cost in most organizations’ on-prem solutions, these are impressive stats.

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From cloud migration to cloud native

Of course, when a company opens an IaaS account, the applications that will run on cloud infrastructure won’t necessarily be built from scratch. According to the survey, 54 percent of applications currently running in the cloud were existing ones migrated there from on-prem infrastructure, while 46 percent were “purpose-built for the cloud.”

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As companies quickly learn, migrated applications typically need to be optimized in order to run cost effectively on any IaaS platform, and expectations for magical outcomes need to be managed (see the InfoWorld article “5 ways your cloud migration may fail—and 5 ways to succeed”). In fact, according to the survey, 27 percent of organizations already have moved, or plan to move, apps/workloads from the cloud back on-prem, a retrograde maneuver known as repatriation. So look before you leap: Non-critical legacy applications that continuously run up compute or high-performance storage charges tend to be particularly bad choices for cloud migration.

The real riches of the cloud accrue to developers who go cloud native and take advantage of modern application architecture. This starts with microservices, which are lightweight services that can be assembled into full-blown applications yet updated individually. The modern style is to run each microservice in a container – which enables multiple microservices, each in isolation from the other, to share the same instance of an operating system. Containers require a fraction of the resources demanded by virtual machines and can “plug in” to an OS without installation, making them extremely portable, a trait developers love.

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According to the survey, portability is the container characteristic respondents liked best, followed by easier application upgrades, maintenance, and lifecycle management. Simpler, more flexible CI/CD (and/or devops) along with cost savings stemming from efficient hardware utilization were close behind. But actual adoption – with containers running in production (16 percent) or being used for dev and test (13 percent) – remains a work in progress. Add the 35 percent interested in or researching containers, though, and you can sense a new paradigm taking hold.

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But all those spinning bits of code need to be orchestrated into useful, scalable applications. That’s where Kubernetes comes in. An open source project developed by Google, Kubernetes automates the deployment, management, scaling, networking, and availability of container-based applications. All the major clouds offer Kubernetes as a service, but as the survey reveals, just 20 percent of organizations are using Kubernetes in production or for dev and test. That slice expands to 33 percent among enterprises as opposed to SMBs – which makes sense, because the need for Kubernetes rises as you increase the number of containers.

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Managing multiple clouds

The three leading IaaS clouds – Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure – all have their strengths and weaknesses, depending on what you want to build. And SaaS providers simply offer applications over the internet. That’s why subscribing to services offered by multiple public clouds is almost an inevitability. The term “multicloud” acknowledges that fact, although the definition has recently expanded to encompass private clouds you maintain in your own data center.

No surprise, then, that organizations choose their clouds based on which are the most appropriate for their workloads. As our survey reveals, when organizations tap multiple public clouds, the primary goal cited by 49 percent of respondents is to make use of “best of breed platforms and service options.” Next in line was “cost savings/optimization” at 41 percent, followed by “improving disaster recovery/business continuity” at 40 percent. If you zoom in on the goals of enterprises only, “avoiding vendor lock-in” is the No. 2 goal at 40 percent.

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As you might expect, nearly half of respondents (48 percent) cited “increased complexity” as the main downside to using multiple clouds, followed by “increased cost of training and hiring” (34 percent). Often, organizations fail to anticipate the expertise required to manage a specific IaaS cloud’s complexities effectively; even configuring large SaaS applications can require specialized cloud administration.

Multicloud management platforms of the type offered by Cisco, Dell, HPE, IBM, and VMware – which purport to enable IT to manage multiple clouds from a single pane of glass – are still nascent. Only 7 percent of respondents said they were using them. A supermajority of 64 percent says their organization uses the native management tools for each public cloud platform.

Navigating cloud obstacles

The No. 1 cloud computing challenge, chosen by 40 percent of respondents, was “controlling cloud costs.” Typically, that concern relates to governance. Without proper policies in place, LoB managers, for example, may spin up cloud services that are redundant with functionality already in place. Worse, lax oversight may result in your organization being charged for cloud services it’s no longer using. Poorly configured cloud workloads provide yet another opportunity to squander your cloud dollars.

Adoption of the latest, greatest cloud services offered by IaaS providers in particular requires supervision. The cost of basic cloud compute, storage, and network services continues to drop. But fancy new cloud services related to, say, machine learning, the internet of things, serverless computing, or distributed relational databases can rack up big charges in a hurry. Experimentation is great; the cloud is a veritable candy store of cool new technology. But as with any other IT endeavor, specific business objectives need to drive the evaluation of cloud technology appropriate for the job.

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Ultimately, it’s hard to get the biggest bang from your cloud buck without experienced professionals. According to the survey, 67 percent of organizations have added new cloud roles and functions. The top of that stack is the cloud architect, a role now found in 28 percent of organizations. According to InfoWorld’s David Linthicum: “Good cloud architects are scarce because they wear so many hats. They need to be well versed in security and governance, expert in public and private cloud solutions, as well as very knowledgeable about traditional IT – all at the same time.”

Next on the roster of roles is cloud systems administrator, a position much easier to fill, because it typically demands understanding of the intricacies of just one IaaS cloud. Following that is the security architect – which brings us to the No. 2 cloud challenge flagged by respondents: “data privacy and security.” In defending against threats, the major clouds are much more secure than the average enterprise data center. The real issues center on proper configuration of cloud security controls, to ensure the policies and access controls codified by an organization extend to its public cloud platform.

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This year’s survey would seem to indicate that none of these challenges are showstoppers. Cloud momentum now seems unstoppable, as organizations see less and less benefit in the slog of maintaining their own infrastructure. As we enter challenging economic times, more than ever, organizations are going to need the agility and low cost of entry offered by the cloud.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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