As the global COVID-19 crisis started to bite, huge portions of everyday life were dumped onto cloud infrastructure almost overnight. With impressively few exceptions, the cloud was ready – scaling dramatically and reliably to meet massive, unplanned-for demand.
And it continues to prove its capabilities. By delivering on its promise of ubiquitous computing at scale, the cloud is providing vital connectivity for businesses and populations. It’s supporting the relief effort and ensuring workers can access critical business information, while enabling secure real-time collaboration between coworkers – and, of course, entertainment services for the masses stuck at home.
As the weeks have gone by, the rapid-response phase of the pandemic has given way to one of acceptance for the ‘new normal,’ accompanied by efforts to plan strategically, despite an uncertain future. For enterprise IT leaders, the situation may represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity to accelerate positive change.
If, that is, the lessons we can learn from this period are embraced and applied to create enduring resiliency and agility that goes way beyond remote working and collaboration. The smartest organizations won’t simply seek to get through this period and return to whatever their version of normal was. The changes they’ve implemented will shape a new future.
How the current climate is accelerating the cloud adoption journey
What are those lessons? Well, this experience should bring renewed scrutiny to the role of the data center, and a rebalancing of cost/benefit calculations that’s in favor of the cloud. And while lifting and shifting workloads and applications to the cloud was a sensible tactical quick-fix under pressure, organizations will soon see the need for a genuine cloud strategy that accounts for cost governance and workload optimization. It has also become clear that the organizations that have adapted best to this new normal are those who view IT as a value-creation partner and enabler of new business models (and not merely a back-office service and support function).
The answers to how IT can help their organizations weather the storm and emerge stronger can be found in these examples, and more.
Impact beyond telework
The immediate response to the crisis demanded a rapid pivot to remote working. There have been some big winners as a result. Zoom reported 300 million meeting participants in April 2020, up from 10 million just five months before. And Microsoft has reported seeing ‘two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months’ that’s taken shape through remote teamwork and learning, sales and customer support, and critical cloud infrastructure and security services.
In the scramble to keep teams connected to each other and to customers, IT leaders have become key players in their organizations’ response efforts. At the same time, they and their organizations have gone through a high-level shift in priorities, with cloud suddenly becoming their de facto operating model.
Collaboration is really only half of the story, as companies that were previously only comfortable with keeping their data in on-premises data centers have had to start thinking very differently. Where cloud adoption usually begins with toe-dipping experimentation with non-core workloads, the speed of response to the COVID-19 crisis demanded a swift dismantling of internal barriers to cloud tech adoption.
Exodus from legacy server rooms
As we recently heard during our virtual roundtable, cloud-based collaboration failed to truly catch on when businesses attempted to phase out business travel to cut costs during the 2008 financial crisis. At a time when the idea of living your life online was still a novelty (Facebook had only 100 million active users at the time), people proved unwilling to change the habits of a lifetime.
This time, however, the world has emphatically embraced doing business online. (People are ready; Facebook now has 2.6 billion monthly active users.)
Similarly, readiness for the cloud is higher. In the intervening 12 years, almost all businesses have experienced the cloud in one shape or another. And the commercial arguments have become undisputed: No enterprise that has a data center is in the business of maintaining that data center. Those arguments will resonate deeper than ever at a time when those resources could be focused on keeping other aspects of the enterprise running.
So, with first-hand experience of the cloud’s ability to reliably and securely support their business, many will not be able to avoid finally acknowledging the elephant in the server room.
My prediction is that there will be an eventual, accelerated, exodus from their own data center. Those that were already dipping their toe in the cloud with IaaS will cannonball into the deep end.
Others that have turned to VDI to lift and shift legacy applications into the cloud, along with the desktops they run on, will soon need to break those applications up. Overall, this will lead to a dramatic shortening of typical cloud adoption cycles from IaaS to PaaS to SaaS, accompanied by strategic approaches to cloud cost governance, workload migrations, and legacy application modernization. And businesses will be better for it as the extent of the pandemic’s economic impact unfolds, thanks to improved agility, flexibility and cost efficiency.
Where will the cloud be in a year?
This period has significantly influenced technology leaders’ opinions of what a ‘new normal’ can look like for their organization. The fear factor around cloud has broken down and, based on their own experience, they’ll have a fresh perspective on its place as a strategic technology.
Remote workforces also stand to benefit from a more positive reassessment of their contribution, finally shattering long-held skepticism. Indeed, many companies – Rackspace included – have reported increases in productivity and customer satisfaction scores during this period.
The workforce itself now knows it doesn’t need to be anchored to desks or physical locations any more to serve customers and each other – even if there is still nothing quite like getting in front of a whiteboard with a bunch of people and solving a problem.
And, if they didn’t know it already, developers have received a sharp lesson in why scalability should always be a primary consideration from day one.
Cloud is the new normal
Even during the ‘old normal,’ the commercial arguments alone made it inevitable that the cloud would eventually become the dominant enterprise technology infrastructure; all organizations needed to do was become comfortable with the idea.
However, no one could’ve predicted a universal compelling event such as this one would come along to compress the general cloud adoption curve from years to perhaps a few months.
Now that it has, the majority of organizations have experienced the power of the cloud to make their operations more resilient and more agile. These were good strengths to have before the crisis, they certainly are during it, and they will be even more so once it has passed.
I’ve spent an entire career working on, and waiting for, the general acceptance of cloud technology. I would’ve happily carried on working and waiting rather than have it happen under these circumstances.
But we are where we are, and while the future remains highly uncertain, there’s one thing I’m sure of. By taking the lessons learned from their rapid exposure to the cloud, and making them a fundamental part of their planning for whatever comes next, businesses can come out of this stronger than when they went in.
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