Trends in 2018: the Maturing Public Cloud Space

2017 marked the 10-year anniversary of Amazon’s AWS, and with it a decade of mainstream awareness of the concept of the public cloud. As we close out the year, the trends that will drive the technology industry through 2018 are becoming apparent. Among these trends is a greater maturity surrounding discussions about cloud computing.

For the past decade, discussions about cloud computing have tended to be very polarized and agenda-driven. Vendors and marketing teams didn’t talk about cloud adoption; they engaged in endless debates about “cloud-first” versus “cloud-only.” By framing the discussion this way, they purposefully excluded all situations in which on-premises was the default, preferred, or even a normal place to deploy workloads.

It is likely that this tendency will dissipate in 2018. Private cloud solutions are maturing, and the number of hybrid cloud solutions available is rapidly growing. Additionally, organizations of all sizes now have experience with the public cloud and there is increasing awareness that it is better-suited for some workloads and use cases than it is for others.

Outsourcing is a business trend that waxes and wanes. This is as true with IT as it is with any other part of a business’ operations. While a shift in dialogue away from more hyperbolic discussions about cloud adoption may seem negative for cloud vendors and the partner ecosystems that surround them, it is anything but.

Healthy discussion about which use cases are well-suited for the public cloud helps ensure that organizations have the best possible experience with the public cloud. This increases trust, a commodity that is absolutely critical for public cloud computing.

Balanced Cloud Adoption

Broadly, analysts agree that cloud adoption is proceeding as previously predicted. Public cloud adoption is growing robustly, and is generally on track to generate more revenue in 2020 than the sale of on-premises IT.

While the numbers for cloud adoption look good, they don’t show on-premises IT disappearing anytime soon. Even through 2026, on-premises IT looks to be healthy with private cloud growing at an impressive rate.

Delving into predictions from various analysts and talking to stakeholders at various organizations help to explain these patterns. Workloads that interact with on-premises equipment, or which handle certain types of regulated data are predicted to stay on-premises. Easily scalable workloads that do Bulk Data Computational Analysis (BDCA) using tools such as Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Business Intelligence (BI) are generally expected to use the public cloud.

In the middle are a great many workloads that could run on-premises or in the public cloud. Where they ultimately live will depend on which other workloads they interact with, cost and various human factors.

The public cloud is excellent for working on large data sets. Thousands of instances can be instantiated quickly, and they can make use of specialist BDCA services that are only available through the large public cloud providers. It is this that will drive much of the growth of the public cloud through 2020.

2017 saw many new BDCA tools made available to developers. The result is predicted to be a rise in large worksets in the public cloud. While on-premises IT will continue to retain the crown for the number of individual services provided to organizations, the scope and scale of those services will be dwarfed by the services being built on the public cloud.

Adjustment to Proprietary Services and Lock-in

A topic of increasing concern surrounding the public cloud is that of lock-in. Some cloud services, such as Infrastructure as a Service are reasonably portable. Others, such as advanced BDCA tools and “serverless” offerings are proprietary. For example, CoreOS CEO Alex Polvi said “Lambda and serverless is one of the worst forms of proprietary lock-in that we’ve ever seen.”

While Polvi’s comments were somewhat tongue in cheek, he is far from the first to voice such concerns. Project Kratos is an example of an open source effort to provide a more vendor-neutral set of serverless capabilities.

Where this is likely to affect the public cloud in 2018 is in calls for guarantees of API stability. Expect 2018 to be the year the first laws will be passed mandating API stability, like in jurisdictions where public and regulated sectors are showing the greatest increases in adoption of public cloud services.

In turn, this will drive increased demand for simple, point-and-click audits of public cloud usage. This will likely range from identifying which Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are subscribed to through to identifying which public cloud APIs are being called by developers of in-house middleware applications. Demand for automated audits, both of deployed Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) IT as well as application development practices, will grow in 2018.

Robust Public Cloud Security

One area where the public cloud should see a great deal of growth in 2018 is Cloud Security Gateways (CSGs) and Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs). CSG/CASB solutions are security layers that sit in between networks, applications, services and/or end users.

A organization might use a CSG/CASB to scan all web traffic before it enters the on-premises network. Alternately, one could be set up to guard a cloud-based e-mail or CRM solution to help guard against exfiltration of customer data to someone outside the organization.

CSG/CASB solutions are increasingly making use of proprietary BDCA tools provided by the public cloud vendors. In addition, they rely on the ability to rapidly scale capacity to meet spikes in demand, something that most on-premises deployments still struggle to accommodate.

Rapid and widespread adoption of these services will in turn trigger discussion about the “black box” risks of so many organizations using the same limited set of services. This is a problem that applies to all public cloud services.

Cloud Management

Evolving views regarding the role of the public cloud within organizational IT will drive frank discussions about how public clouds are engaged with and managed. If there is one trend that will dominate the public cloud space in 2018 it will be the adoption of multi-cloud strategies.

Mitigation of lock-in has only one solution: ending single sourcing of suppliers. Different public cloud providers also offer different services and have different ecosystems, with the result being greater adoption of public cloud services. Similarly, supplier diversity can help mitigate security risks.

Multi-cloud adoption will also be driven by increasing competition between the large public cloud providers. Their growing complement of proprietary BDCA and serverless capabilities will not only be directly relevant to organizations, but will spur ecosystem development of SaaS services by third-party developers.

Taking advantage of the growing trend towards multi-cloud adoption will require investment. One consideration will be data storage. Public clouds charge not only for data storage, but for network transit as well. For organizations frequently moving data between clouds there will be financial advantages in locating public cloud storage in third-party data centers that have high speed, low latency connectivity to all the major public cloud providers.

Multi-cloud adoption will require multi-cloud aware management. Two hurdles that will come into sharp focus in 2018 will be regulatory compliance and best practice analysis. The GDPR comes into effect in May 2018, and will be followed by a number of other regulations around the world.

Organizations with a global footprint will need to be able to quickly analyze their extant practices and utilization. They will need to audit their compliance, monitor changes, and be able to easily apply the same rules across all providers. This will be an area of increased attention, especially as the discussion around cloud adoption moves towards a more pragmatic, piecemeal approach.

Instead of assuming that public cloud utilization will ultimately be “cloud only,” with a single public cloud supplier and all data under one roof, organizations will spend 2018 examining the realities of securing and defending data across multiple providers. This will include moving data off-premises and then back again. Expect enterprise encryption and key management to see a great deal of growth.

Focus on Excellence

One consistent observation from multi-cloud deployments thus far is that organizations engaging with multiple public cloud providers change their view of how both internal IT and public cloud services should be run. The services provided cease being treated as semi-magical solutions that require no further consideration, and start being treated as real digital assets that need to be controlled, managed, and defended against failure.

As a result of this change in perspective, 2018 will see a renewed focus on proper backups and disaster recovery, with many multi-cloud deployments being focused initially on ensuring service continuity in case of failure by the primary cloud provider.

Focus on traditional cloud concerns such as cost control and cloud sprawl will continue, while migration efforts aimed at making workloads and infrastructure fully composable will accelerate. While making workloads composable has always been seen as important for migrating on-premises workloads to the cloud, making workloads multi-cloud capable will mean that workloads designed for a specific cloud provider will be under renewed scrutiny to ensure they can be used with any cloud provider.


While all of the above is going on, emerging workloads such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality will continue to grow. This is driving the evolution of public cloud services to include edge computing. Edge computing, in turn, will continue to drive discussion throughout 2018 about which workloads belong where, as latency, throughput and geographic proximity all become increasingly important factors in workload placement.

One thing that is becoming clear is that 2018 will be a year where the importance of robust multi-cloud management capabilities becomes clear. Organizations of all sizes will seek out solutions that transcend any individual public cloud provider while still providing visibility and management of their own on-premises environments.

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