As the calendar turns to the year 2021, cloud computing is considered mature technology. But in fact many elements of cloud – a handful of fast growing technologies – continue to be in flux, from cloud native to multicloud. Furthermore, edge computing is on a rapid growth curve, and will certainly influence the development of cloud.
To provide insight into cloud computing in 2021 and beyond, I spoke with three top thought leaders:
Michael Liebow, Senior Advisor to the C-Suite
Jim Ryan, CEO, Flexera
Sam Ramji, Chief Strategy Officer, DataStax
Among the topics we discussed in a wide ranging conversation:
1) Your single highest conviction prediction for cloud in 2021?
2) We comment on what the cloud pundits are chattering about.
We address many of the following 2021 cloud predictions that are floating around….
- 2021 will be The Year of Cloud Native.
- Edge computing becomes “the new cloud” as edge gains adoption and cloud becomes merely business-as-usual foundational.
- Multi-cloud will dissolve the barrier between cloud providers.
- Hybrid and on-premise grow in popularity. (Really, on-premise? Aren’t we past that?)
- Winners and losers in the cloud world in 2021?
3) Future of cloud beyond 2021: how can companies prepare now?
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Select quotes from the discussion: edited for length and clarity:
Top Prediction for Cloud Computing in 2021
Liebow: I want to hit the non-technical aspect, because I really do think that given what we’ve experienced in 2020, that in 2021, we’re going to see an acceleration on the business side of the house in terms of driving the level of expectation from the technology…the business side is going to take a very active role in driving the next level of transformation.
I think we’ve seen acceleration in digital transformation, and I think that the business, the CEO in particular, needs to step up and articulate the moonshot, whatever that moonshot is for that organization, whatever ambition, I think they need to step up to it.
I think they need to be the forcing function, because we’re seeing too much churn or a lot of churn in the Fortune 500, and I think if you don’t, it’s do or die. So step up to the plate, set that ambitious agenda.
And the reason I’m saying this is, because the more ambitious the agenda, the fact to the matter remains: the only path is cloud… The number of organizations successfully leveraging cloud for their business has grown to a critical mass, so that every industry, every region, you can point to something that somebody did with speed and with scale, and that’s the essence of cloud.
Ryan: At the risk of being somewhat controversial, it’s maybe the hype around cloud just abates and ceases. It’s not magic care. The only reason you go to cloud is to achieve a business outcome and get something of benefit for the business, and I think too many CEOs had been delegating some of those decisions to the technologist within the company. And I understand why, but just because it’s cloud doesn’t make it the land of milk and honey and all your dreams will come true.
This is just your stuff running on somebody else’s kit, and let’s not make it something larger than it is. It’s a means to an end, it is not the end in and of itself. And I would hope that now that approximately 50% of the workloads or thereabout are now running in the cloud, people have digested what it is and what it entails, and aren’t treating it as something so special, they’re treating it like the rest of their IT staple.
Ramji: My high-confidence prediction is that 2021 will be the year of multi-cloud, right? To be specific…Andy Jassy came out and started talking about multi-cloud, I mean… [AWS has tended to offer itself as the sole option for cloud] That’s kind of the whole AWS worldview, right.
What do you mean there are other clouds? We don’t understand.” But when they start acknowledging that, what’s that reflecting? It’s reflecting the reality of CIOs who are trying to figure out, “What do I do?” There’s been this COVID acceleration, there’s been a lot of M&A. We’re actually seeing the Fortune 500 are sitting on the largest dry powder war chest in human history. The top companies in the first six months of COVID took out $800 billion in debt, which they mostly haven’t spent in order to restructure their corporations and fix their assets, so that they could figure out how you payroll, what you do with your facilities, so that is gonna unleash…
But now look at what Jim’s company does, they help you figure out how do you spend less to get more. Look at what Michael’s advising folks on, you start to realize, “Wow, the best way to get a discount from my cloud vendor is to tell them I’m also on another cloud.” If you don’t have a reasonable way to escape, they will not give you a good price.
What Drives Value in the Cloud in 2021
Liebow: And it’s not just one thing, it’s not just AI, it’s the combination of these things together that create the value, and so the better you’re able to leverage a Cloud platform, these resident tools, the innovation that’s coming from these different providers and apply that into your own business challenge, and do it in record time, that’s the point.
And so there are many, many examples of organizations being able to do that, and I would say that the bulk of the use cases that are out there leverage these new technologies in some new fashion. And underpinning that is that there’s tremendous latent demand from the business side of the house for things that they want to do, but have been told no, there’s no budget, whatever.
Because when you think about how IT runs today, the majority of the budget is against things… Legacy tech debt…Just paying the interest on that and not on new. And so we need to have that reckoning, we need to drive more funding towards these new capabilities, and that’s the exciting part of where I think we’re going in 2021.
Will Multi-cloud Dissolve the Barrier Between Cloud Providers?
Ramji: Going mainstream doesn’t mean the barriers go away. And I think this is a kind of a good segue from Michael Liebow’s comment on artificial intelligence. I had the opportunity to attend JPMorgan Chase’s Technology Innovation Conference about six weeks ago. Jamie Dimon held the keynote, and he told us all that the direction he was giving his business people was “focus on AI.” He said because if you get something right in the business with AI, you won’t get a 10% improvement, you’ll get a 10X improvement.
You may end up going, well, you know the reason I use Google for my AI workloads, the reason I use Amazon is for my line of business apps, and I use Microsoft for all of my most secure workloads because I’ve got all of my active directory, policy, everything is locked up, and maybe stuff that I wanna see analyzed in Office 365. So you’re gonna use them differently on purpose with some crossover, so the control plane is unlikely to be common between cloud providers, you’ll have multiple cloud stances.
I think 2021 being the year of cloud native, super, super safe bet. The idea that multi-cloud means that you can turn all the clouds into one giant computer, not going to happen as the competition between the cloud providers is gonna make them create breaking changes that won’t let you have this common environment. It’s like Mac and Windows.
Cloud Computing in 2026: Drastic Skills Shortage
Ryan: I think the biggest thing that we look at: resources are already scarce, finding people that can actually help solve these problems is already very expensive and it’s difficult to find that talent.
In 2026, there’s a cliff of population. We had a recession back in ’08 and ’09, and the number of 18-year-olds that are gonna be available to enter university plummets dramatically. And what that means is in five years, every time a washing machine manufacturer wakes up and decides to hire some cloud people to come in and solve their problems, there’s fewer and fewer people to actually do this.
So I actually think workforce planning is absolutely key as you project out. And you wanna try and do this on an organic basis. I think the resources will continue to get more scarce. Now, I think one benefit to COVID, with people working anywhere, will make it easier to employ them and manage them remotely.
But at the end of the day, it takes talented, super smart people to go and help us accomplish whatever we set out to do, and there’s just fewer and fewer of them, at least in the United States. And we’re gonna have to get comfortable on where we’re going to source them, or how we train them internally so that they’re with us in five years