Guide to industry cloud: What businesses need to know

Major public cloud providers and smaller industry cloud firms are investing in solutions to meet specialized business requirements.
Written by James Sanders, Contributor

Cloud computing has enabled organizations of all sizes to scale computing resources to meet their workloads, remove the need for building and maintaining data centers, slow CapEx planning processes, and eliminate the costs of powering servers with unutilized capacity due to variable workloads.

But the potential benefits of cloud computing have not been realized uniformly across all industry sectors. Several have unique data protection or retention regulations, for example, or contextual factors -- such as poor internet connectivity in places of work -- that limit the practicality of general-purpose public cloud deployments.

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As cloud solutions continue to mature, major public cloud providers are investing in solutions to meet specialized industry needs. Likewise, specialized cloud service providers are entering the cloud wars to deliver highly polished and targeted features and support, acting as a 'cloud concierge' to migrate legacy/on-premises systems into the cloud, as well as providing industry-specific applications. Together, these initiatives are known as the 'industry cloud'.

What is industry cloud?

Industry cloud represents efforts from traditional public cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure, to provide tailored solutions to meet the needs of organizations with business operations in industries that are subject to data protection or retention regulations, operations with mission-critical applications, and industries that experience regulatory restrictions on software use that disallow the rapid changes endemic to software development. Specialized industry-focused cloud service providers include athenaHealth, NTT DATA, SAP, Veeva Systems, Medidata, NCR, and Shopify.

These industry-focused services extend beyond Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings such as customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) services, and extend into platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).

Likewise, industry cloud is not limited to being an exclusively public cloud deployment, as regulations or preferences for data warehousing may limit the amount of data stored in public clouds, as can worksite factors that limit connectivity where data is generated or used. Hybrid and private industry cloud deployments can be executed with the assistance of system integration firms with expertise in cloud onboarding and digital transformation.

SEE: Cloud providers 2019: A buyer's guide (TechRepublic download)

Who benefits from industry cloud computing?

Multiple industries face challenges specific to their business operations that add layers of complexity to the adoption of cloud computing.

Healthcare cloud services are an increasingly attractive option for hospitals and primary healthcare providers, as patient-facing operations face regulations such as HIPAA, which complicate the storage of and access to patient charts and records. (Conversely, pharmaceutical research, and other non-patient-facing practices enjoyed a several-year head start on cloud adoption, as data protection regulations are less of a factor for those businesses.) The potential for a data-driven healthcare system may help to serve patients more efficiently.

Financial services require special accommodations to adopt cloud computing services, as PCI  and SOX compliance complicates the adoption of decentralized technologies. Likewise, the insurance industry can benefit by taking data generated from Internet of Things (IoT) devices to determine potential risks that drivers pose on the road.

Industries that operate apart from traditional offices, with mobile-first employees that migrate from worksite to worksite -- such as oil rigs -- face greater difficulties using standard cloud solutions, due in part to the limited connectivity that comes with these settings. Likewise, agricultural use of cloud computing is hampered by connectivity issues for IoT devices deployed in fields.

How does industry cloud compare to general cloud computing?

Industry cloud solutions from the 'big three' public cloud vendors act as a bridge to their fully matured cloud solutions for businesses requiring additional options or features. 

Among mainstream vendors, investment is increasing in industry cloud, as growth in the market for general-purpose cloud computing has softened. Industry sectors that can easily migrate to cloud computing have already done so, or are midway through their migration, which has prompted public cloud vendors to address industry-specific needs in order to maintain growth.

Likewise, there are more than 100 smaller industry cloud vendors, either cross-industry or specializing in the needs of a particular sector. According to IDC, industry cloud expenditures within healthcare totaled $12.1 billion in 2018, followed by public sector ($8.4bn), and finance ($7.4bn), with year-over-year growth firmly in double digits.

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