Cloud computing: What's coming next and how you can help your business to prepare

CIOs might be used to relying on the cloud but they shouldn't take the evolution of on-demand IT for granted - and here's why.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

The cloud is now accepted by almost all CIOs as a standard way to procure systems and services simply and quickly. But as the cloud continues its apparently inexorable rise, how will on-demand IT continue to evolve through the next decade? Four experts give us their view on how to prepare for the future of the cloud.

1. Use the cloud as a platform for innovation

Gregor Petri, research vice president at Gartner, says CIOs looking to embrace the cloud must go beyond lifting and shifting existing applications. Rather than thinking of the cloud as a place that runs today's applications, CIOs looking to the long-term use of the cloud should concentrate on disruption instead.

"Focus on a much more applied level of functionality. Look for areas where you can use the cloud as a platform to create unique functionality and a special experience. Many of these experiences will be digital," he says.

"And to do that, you need a slew of supporting services, like voice, search and databases, and many of those will be best-supported by the cloud, rather than traditional hardware. Only do what you want to yourself as a business; consume the rest as a service."

Petri sees the future of the cloud as a platform for innovation. He says CIOs will use on-demand IT resources as a platform to run emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, and even quantum computing.

"We'll be running lots of things in businesses we don't even have today," says Petri. "These are quite compute-intensive technologies and to get that resource on-premise is a big hurdle. These technologies will also be associated to bursts of activity, so not having to own hardware is attractive."

2. Think about how you might develop localised cloud services

Alex von Schirmeister, chief digital, technology and innovation officer at RS Components, says the cloud gives his firm service flexibilities and cost efficiencies that were previously unavailable. Yet despite his own successes, von Schirmeister believes CIOs thinking of making a move to the cloud in the future will still encounter non-IT executives who believe embracing on-demand IT comes with a degree of business risk.

If a large cloud-based service goes down, says von Schirmeister, it can wipe out the operational activities of entire companies or even industries. Compliance is also a concern for executives, especially when it comes to the General Data Protection Regulation and the geographical location of data.

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The regulatory bind of managing cloud arrangements is only likely to increase in the future as governments attempt to legislate for the storage and use of data. The result of this continuing legislation, says von Schirmeister, is that CIOs must consider how they might build much more localised cloud services.

"I do think there will increasingly be a notion where various companies start looking at private clouds or virtual clouds that are contained within certain boundaries and barriers," he says. "It may be a cloud but it may sit in a specific region or country, but we'll continue to see an evolution in the form of cloud technology."

3. Consider how online will be the default setting for business operations

Kevin Curran, professor of cybersecurity at Ulster University and senior IEEE member, says the definition of the cloud – a scalable foundation for the elastic use of infrastructure – has served a useful purpose in the initial move on demand. Now, a change is coming – and CIOs must recognise that the new definition of the cloud means preparing for a future where what goes online stays online.

"Currently, most things are offline by default but being online and connected will become the default for everything. This points to a future where every device will simply connect to the cloud. 5G will support this – it might be fast, but it's most impressive feature is its enormous capacity," he says.

"The cloud will be the foundation of devices that use data at the edge of the network and AI will benefit as a result. We will experience more natural interactions with computers; a super intelligence. This resource combined with fast 5G will serve us with a powerful form of computing that was previously in the realm of science fiction."

4. Keep an eye on the developing capability of staff and providers

Alex Hilton, chief executive of not-for-profit industry body Cloud Industry Forum, says the pace of disruptive innovation is such that any attempt to predict what the cloud might look like in ten or even five years' time is "meaningless". In most cases, the key issue for CIOs going forward will be keeping up with the rate of transformation.

"There is a distinct problem with the pace of change for most businesses. In truth, many organisations are not yet on the right trajectory. The constantly evolving technology landscape makes it very difficult for business leaders to move quickly, knowing which horse – in terms of cloud provider – to back," he says.

SEE: Cloud v. data center decision (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Hilton says his organisation has seen huge change during the past decade as it has tracked the move of vendors to on-demand IT. Moving forward, Hilton says CIOs should keep a watchful eye on both the skills of their internal IT teams and the capabilities of their external cloud providers. He says successful companies will be those that embrace disruption – and that will be as true in the future for CIOs as it is for cloud providers.

"Technology skills shortages around the cloud are evident and many of the success stories are from companies who deliver disruptive new ways of thinking or addressing a business need. The providers with foresight and the willingness to invest and be agile will be the winners in the future," says Hilton.  


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