Cloud computing: 10 ways it will change by 2020

Cloud computing: 10 ways it will change by 2020

Summary: What are the issues, challenges and technologies that will frustrate and inspire those working on the cloud in 2020?


Right now we are in the early days of cloud computing, with many organisations taking their first, tentative steps. But by 2020 cloud is going to be a major — and permanent — part of the enterprise computing infrastructure.

Eight years from now we are likely to see low-power processors crunching many workloads in the cloud, housed in highly automated datacentres and supporting massively federated, scalable software architecture.

Cloud 2020
What form will cloud computing take in the year 2020?

Analyst group Forrester expects the global cloud computing market will grow from $35bn (£22.5bn) in 2011 to around $150bn by 2020 as it becomes key to many organisations' IT infrastructures.

Alongside this increase in demand from enterprise, there will be development in the technologies that support clouds, with rapid increases in processing power making cloud projects even cheaper, while technologies currently limited to supercomputing will make it into the mainstream.

READ THIS: Cloud 2020: What are the barriers to the cloud?

And of course, by 2020, a generational shift will have occurred in organisations that means a new generation of CIOs will be in charge who have grown up using cloud-based tools, making them far more willing to adopt cloud on an enterprise scale.

With all these developments in mind, here are 10 ways in which the cloud of 2020 will look radically different to the way it does today, as gleaned from the experts I've spoken to.

1. Software floats away from hardware

John Manley, director of HP's Automated Infrastructure Lab, argues that software will become divorced from hardware, with more and more technologies consumed as a service: "Cloud computing is the final means by which computing becomes invisible," he says.

As a result, by 2020, if you were to ask a CIO to draw a map of their infrastructure, they would not be able to, says David Merrill, chief economist of Hitachi Data Systems. "He will be able to say 'here are my partner providers'," he says, but he will not be able to draw a diagram of his infrastructure.

This will be because it will be in a "highly abstracted space", where software is written in such a way that it goes through several filters before it interacts with hardware. This means that front-end applications, or applications built on top of a platform-as-a-service, will be hardware agnostic.

2. Modular software

To take advantage of the huge armadas of hardware available via clouds, individual software applications are set to get larger and more complex as they are written to take advantage of scale.

With the growth in the size and complexity of individual programs, the software development process will place an emphasis on modular software — as in, large applications with components that can be modified without shutting down the program.

As a consequence, cloud applications will require a new programming mindset, especially as they interact with multiple clouds.

"Software has to be thought about differently," HP's Manley says, arguing that the management of federated services will be one of the main 2020 challenges. This is because applications are not only going to be based in the cloud, but will hook into other clouds and various on-premise applications as well.

In other words, different parts of applications will "float around" in and out of service providers. Assuring good service-level agreements for these complex software packages will be a challenge, Manley says.

3. Social software

Along with the modular shift, software could take on traits currently found in social-media applications like Facebook, says Merrill. Programs could form automatic, if fleeting, associations with bits of hardware and software according to their needs.

"It will be a social-media evolution," Merrill says. "You will have an infrastructure. It'll look like a cloud, but we will engineer these things so that a database will 'like' a server, [or] will 'like' a storage array."

In other words, the infrastructure and software of a datacentre will mould itself around the task required, rather than the other way around. Developers will no longer need to worry about provisioning storage, a server and a switch, Merrill says: all of this will happen automatically. 

4. Commodity hardware rules

By 2020 the transition to low-cost hardware will be in full swing as schemes such as the Open Compute Project find their way out of the datacentres of Facebook and Amazon Web Services and into facilities operated by other, smaller companies as well. "Servers and storage devices will look like replaceable sleds," says Frank Frankovsky, Facebook's VP of hardware design and supply chain, and chairman of the Open Compute Project.

"Cloud computing is the final means by which computing becomes invisible" — John Manley, HP

By breaking infrastructure down into its basic components, replacements and upgrades can be done quickly, he says. The companies best placed to use this form of commoditised infrastructure are large businesses that operate huge datacentres. "I would say that between now and 2020, the fastest-growing sector of the market is going to be cloud service providers," Frankovsky says.

5. Low-power processors and cheaper clouds

We're around a year away from low-power ARM chips coming to market with a 64-bit capability, and once that happens uptake should accelerate, as enterprise software will be developed for the RISC chips, allowing companies to use the power-thrifty processors in their datacentres, and thereby cut their electricity bills by an order of magnitude.

HP has created a pilot server platform — Redstone — as part of its Project Moonshot scheme to try to get ARM kit to its customers, while Dell has been selling custom ARM-based servers to huge cloud customers via its Data Center Solutions group for years.

By 2020 it's likely that low-power chips will be everywhere. And it won't just be ARM — Intel, aware of the threat, is working hard on driving down the power used by its Atom chips, though most efforts in this area are targeted at mobile devices rather than servers. Facebook thinks ARM adoption is going to start in storage equipment, then broaden to servers.

"I really do think it's going to have a dramatic impact on the amount of useful work, per dollar, you can get done," Frankovsky says. This should help cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services, cut their electricity bills. Moreover, if they are caught in a price war with competitors, they are more likely to pass on at least a chunk of the savings to developers, in the form of price reductions.

6. Faster interconnects

The twinned needs of massively distributed applications and a rise in the core count of high-end processors will converge to...

Topics: Cloud, Amazon, Emerging Tech, Google

Jack Clark

About Jack Clark

Currently a reporter for ZDNet UK, I previously worked as a technology researcher and reporter for a London-based news agency.

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  • Lemmings

    Like lemmings following each other over the cliff, the computer industry has done the same thing with open source and now cloud computing.

    The computer industry likes to reinvent itself when it runs out of money making ideas now it is Cloud computing. All that Clouding computing will lead to is a consolidation in the industry which will mean a less choice for the consumer, eventually higher prices and a monopoly.

    However it seems everybody has forgotten one thing, we will have all this technology in the data centre trying to serve everybody relying on ISP's infrastructure to deliver it all. If in the UK the BT (or Virgin cable) infrastructure fails nobody will have access to their cloud and everything stops.

    If our systems go down for 10mins there is an inquisition.

    If Cloud providers cannot deliver guaranteed service from the data centre to the desktop it will not succeed and once again the computer industry will have cost users time and money until the next money making idea.
    • Lemmings Yes and Big Brother

      Who is going to police the Coulds for data security? If Google and Facebook can and has read private data, what is going to stop that in 2020? The only "safe" data is on my computer.
      Major Could dowtime has already been experienced. India has had a major power outage. What of hackers? If the military ever goes Cloud, we are all at the mercy of hackers.
      Encryption of data sent to the Could is the only way senders will have any reasonable assurance data will not be read by someone. And even that will not equal keeping the data home.
      • Yes...

        ...I agree. And while I wouldn't go so far as to say there is a formal conspiracy to "gently nudge" the masses to a point at which everything they say, write, AND see, will be available to "someone" for inspection, certainly government(s) must be delighted at the prospect.

        But, the only safe data is on your PC? What makes you think it hasn't been transmitted somewhere (in background mode). Not to wax paranoid, but the recent saying of, "if it's on the Internet, then anyone can see it" holds true to the equipment connected to it--it's all part of the Internet. Is this sort of thing happening? Likely not (but if asked to bet my life on it, I sure would hesitate).
        • just unplug the cable...

          I dont see the need to connect any business PC to the internet - I'd put this in the top 10 IT dumbest things to ever consider.

          Why people are contemplating both exposing data to random providers and their operatives is beyond me. Never mind the fact you'll end up paying for the same software over and over again.

          Lemmings to the slaughter IMHO.

          Vertical integration and software integration means you pay more for less, enjoy the future.
    • Cloud = Public Cloud. Cloud = Private Cloud

      "Cloud" doesn't necessarily refer to a hosting environment far away (though that is the way the consumer sees it-- because they never had a datacenter to begin with!).

      "Cloud" is simply an architecture that allows for more elastic utilization of a heterogeneous network, compute, and storage resources.

      "Cloud" is simply the evolution of Virtual Machine technology (automated deployment, management, scale and contract instance counts).

      If you have an application that is internal, or contains highly sensitive information that you prefer not to host in a multi tenant environment and be at the mercy of someone else's service level agreement (SLA) and every single point of failure between them and you.... then don't.

      Public cloud resources make sense for publicly accessed applications. Private cloud resources make sense for privately held ones.

      This architecture is driven by two things. 1) The ever growing demand for rapid deployment and expansion of existing applications, and 2) The ever growing compute capacities of existing server platforms... I can get an E7 class server with 80 Cores (40+Hyperthreading), 1 TB of RAM, and multiple 10GbE interfaces for < $60K. Does it make sense to run a web server on that monster? Hell no. BUT-- I can run 30, 50, or even 100 servers inside that box. If I have an entire row of these beasts-- but my application sits idle from 6pm-6am-- my private cloud infrastructure can shut 90% of them down, and wake them up in the AM.

      Cloud is flexibility and simplification of the data center... not just Microsoft's and Amazon's... but yours and mine as well.
      • Cloud is high risk for the client and high profit for the provider

        Sure but who is dumb enough to put their business core data at risk to a 3rd party - may as well just hand over the keys to the business as absolutely everything will be at the mercy of a few key personnel who dont even work for you.

        For web servers fine if not critical, but for anything else you'd really have to be very stupid to even consider it.

        Cloud computing is the hard sell for the big boys to get mugs to rent software rather than buy it and cash in big time - I guess some people are thick but there is no way I would advise any client to go near.
        • Did you even read everything?

          "Sure but who is dumb enough to put their business core data at risk to a 3rd party" Ok.. but as JimJJ said, don't. Build your OWN INTERNAL cloud. People are automatically assuming that "Cloud" means external only. It doesn't. Do you run an intranet site in your company? Then that site is running on your internal internet (read Private Cloud).

          Please finish reading comments before responding. Don't skim, you're just making yourself look silly.
          • But at what cost?

            The overwhelming majority of companies are simply not big enough to have their own cloud - most don't even have dedicated IT teams!

            Many of those companies that have their own IT teams with the required skill sets and can afford to have their own cloud will see that the potential savings of using public ones is a good financial move, if perhaps not such a clever security one ... and we all know that money generally trumps everything else, especially if the sales person is persuasive or offers a big enough incentive.

            So in reality the only companies that will be running their own clouds are those that are either directly involved in the business or are so big that there are clear financial reasons to move to a cloud based one.

            I can see that the future will be one where the economies of scale that a public cloud provider enjoys will eventually create a cost differential that makes all but the biggest and most security conscious firms buckle to shareholder profit requirements.

            The future is not the cloud because it's a good idea, but because on financial grounds you wont be able to argue against it, and in the short term if your competitor is benefiting from the reduced costs of using a public cloud you'll most likely be out of business before any of the negatives of using one becomes apparent.
          • Did you even read everything?

            Thank you! Still too many misconceptions and not fully understanding the magnitude of capabilities possible with the cloud lead to many of the naysayers, probably still the older generation that we will be replaced by the new breed by 2020 mentioned in this article. There are many ways to benefit from the cloud and in a very secure environment, but you need to understand how you can achieve it instead of shutting it down. The cloud is inevitable, and whether you want to accept it or not, it will be what the future of IT will look like. Thanks IceQ.
      • Private Cloud

        That's right, you can built your own private cloud with your own set of security if your date is highly confidential

        It doesn't even even have to be complicated or expensive. Please take a look at ThinServer XP software which allows you to do just that
    • Going Down

      >If our systems go down for 10mins there is an inquisition
      The total downtime of millions of cloud servers at Amazon/Microsoft/Google is much less than your corporate data centre - if you think yours is more reliable, you are in denial.

      >...if infrastructure fails
      If the electricity grid fails, your data centre will fail. Your data centre will also fail for numerous other reasons which will not affect the massive cloud infrastructure.

      In general, you sound like you are trying to make excuses to keep things as they are.
      • Another way to look at it

        You may say that but again, if the infrastructure fails anything can fail. Basically it's the problem of "Cloud failing or downed affecting you and others using it" or "Your own data center fails affecting you". You put your stuff in your own data center and when it fails, it will only be your problem (hopefully). There are things that will affect your own data center but not the cloud. Vice versa. The point is, when the cloud really fails it became a bigger problem that in turns, probably causes you a bigger trouble than your data center failing. I think what he's saying is putting all eggs (data) in a basket (cloud) is not a good idea. The cloud is good but keeping your own data center while using the cloud is better. I'm no expert in this but I still worry what will happen when the cloud everyone's relying on fails. That will be a disaster, like an EMP on a country.
      • Huh?

        If the internet goes down, with our current setup we can continue to work and send stuff via mail, fedex, messenger, etc.

        With cloud computing, if the internet goes down, then we can't even access our data (or worse our software if it is cloud based).

        Add in to that the fact that so many ISPs are now limiting bandwidth, which cloud computing goes through faster than our office goes through water and you end up with a very expensive proposal.

        Not to mention, the cost of paying for software monthly instead of paying once every 2-3 years or so.

        As for if my data server is more reliable, well, we haven't had an outage in over a year of even our primary server, which has complete and automatic redundancy with backup hardware and software. If anything fails, another machine (either physical or virtual, depending on the need) takes over and I get a text message and email alert to fix the first one. Again, this has not happened yet, except when we forced it to do so to test it of course.

        In the last year there have been various cases of the cloud failing during our business hours, lasting for several hours, meaning we would have not been able to do any work had we depended on the cloud during that time. With most companies standing to loose $1,500 or more per hour that they are unable to be productive, the cloud is a bet that many cannot make.

        Another issue with the cloud is TOS and who owns the data, this is something that has to be taken care of before the cloud can ever be a viable tool for business.

        Now, the cloud does have it's place, for example, the cloud is a great place for backups (with a company that has a good TOS), but it is definitely not a good place for day to day business use for a large variety of reasons. For example we tried having a hosted exchange service; however, it was finally determined that the amount of email we receive on a daily basis does not work well with a hosted exchange server. We probably get about 100GB daily between all of our users.

        So, there are a variety of reasons that cloud computing cannot take off to the extent that this article would like us to believe it will.
      • Have you ever heard of backup power you fool?

        Our local data centers and sites are backed up by UPS and where necessary generators. Say good bye when a major power outage or rotating brownout happens without a generator, especially if using cloud computing. You have no control when the cloud fails.
    • Other opinion

      Cloud computing is and will continue to evolve, so I have no doubt in my mind that these security issues will be dealt with very soon. Besides, as every establishment has its counterpart in form of underground, I'm sure that in case mainstream cloud computing proves to be too big of a security risk, smart entrepreneurs will create conditions for more secure storage targeting customers who don't trust the mainstream media.
      Neebo Cumulonimbus
      • Rain Cloud

        Put you trust in a 3rd party, and live to regret it when it comes to your data.
    • Patriot Act

      The US Patriot Act means that any data on any American owned server ( regardless of where the server is located in the world) must be handed over to US Authorities, without informing the owner of the data, if requested. American owned cloud providers Google, MS, AWS etc would have no option but to comply with any such requests. I wouldn't use it for anything more than syncing my machines and storing family photos !
      Very Very Very Grumpy
  • The future seems cloudy

    Mostly cloudy
  • The Future of Cloud Computing

    The only thing that will change for Cloud Computing by 2020 is that there will be no such thing. The only thing that has kept it alive now is money and the thought of new technology. Good luck with your predictions...
  • Evolution

    @pjc158 don't you think you are being a little cynical? Cloud Computing is the era of computing that should have been how the IT world should have stayed with years ago during mainframes.

    The Cloud is a good thing as it protects people’s data and gives them greater versatility with it. If it were left to the user’s people will still be losing their lifetime’s collection of personal photos or their companies’ entire database!

    I agree there are some dangers with the world going this way. Hackers as an example only have one place to go rather than a million places, but I also take comfort in the fact that if I have chosen the right Cloud provider, my data is stored in a far better environment than I could ever afford in my office.

    At we are Cloud evangelists and we absolutely know that those people who aren't utilising the Cloud are the one's losing out. Like it or not, the Cloud revolution is upon us. It’s not a case of 'will it succeed', it's a case of how long will it be before everyone catches up!