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Developments in the cloud computing industry move at a pace that can be maddening to follow and impossible to predict.
But some big-picture trends that will characterize the market for the next year are coming into focus, even if the technologies that ultimately enable them and vendors that drive them seem constantly in flux and vulnerable to disruption.
Many of those emerging cloud computing trends stem from the industry entering a phase of standardization and increased compatibility—a sign of maturity in any tech sector.
Cloud infrastructure—public, hosted private and on-premises—is increasingly less siloed, allowing workloads to be more portable and data streams more mobile.
That standardization, largely thanks to the open-source movement, is allowing a shift in focus up the stack, with new channel roles emerging to support application-level processes, from enabling artificial intelligence and high-performance computing, to delivering novel SaaSOps and application development services.
Multi-Cloud Becomes Omni-Cloud
In 2019, it became banal to say we are headed into a multi-cloud world as enterprises started routinely deploying workloads across multiple Infrastructure-as-a-Service providers.
But as applications become even more portable, compute cycles easier to procure in real time, data integration platforms streamline connectivity, and vendors form cross-platform alliances, that multi-cloud trend might start looking more like an omni-cloud one in the near future.
As a general rule, the largest enterprises may soon be customers of all the hyperscalers and some niche providers to boot, allowing them to take advantage of increasingly differentiated services, specific deals and avoid lock-in.
The Hearst Corp., which has more than 360 separate businesses, provides a good example of things to come.
The New York-based media, information and services company recently engaged its digital transformation across Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. That omni-cloud approach gives Hearst developers and divisions the best competitive posture in all their relevant markets.
Kubernetes Breaks And Blurs Cloud Barriers
Enterprises select the Kubernetes platform best meeting their unique operational needs and capabilities. That could be a prescriptive solution along the Red Hat OpenShift model, an under-the-covers implementation from Pivotal, independent distributions of the likes offered by Docker or Rancher Labs, or native provider services like Google GKE, Microsoft AKS and AWS EKS.
The container orchestrator often then becomes the fabric enabling them to extend applications across disparate cloud infrastructure—delivering on the multi-cloud promise.
As such, Kubernetes isn’t just bringing a wrecking ball to cloud barriers, but it’s also creating a strange market dynamic.
The cloud infrastructure software vendor increasingly being decoupled from the provider that owns the buildings that house the server racks is leading to some offerings that would have been unimaginable a few years back.
Consider Google’s Anthos service, which can run as easily on Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure as it can on Google Cloud Platform. Or the coming VMware Tanzu, that leaps off-premises to span all those hyper-scalers as well.
The multi-cloud world appears to be one where not only customer workloads span clouds, but the cloud providers themselves routinely extend into rival territory.
Kubernetes Companions Create New Silos
Kubernetes has won the day, but the era of cross-cloud unity the container orchestrator ushers in will be challenged by the ancillary services developing around it.
The Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which keeps tight control over the core Kubernetes project, has been incubating companion technologies to round out the stack. CNCF promotes those projects through its CNCF roadmap, a document detailing a path to comprehensive container adoption based on enterprise use cases.
One technology on that roadmap that’s essential for enterprises deploying hybrid applications is the Istio service mesh. Other open source projects are increasingly important components, from Prometheus, to monitor and instrument containerized applications; the ELK Stack for logging and trouble-shooting (which constitutes Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana); Harbor, a container registry needed for high availability in production; and Jaeger, emerging as a standard technology for tracing application logs across microservices.
While the cloud giants aren’t straying far from upstream Kubernetes functionality, increasingly they look to be promoting competitive technologies to other projects on the CNCF roadmap. For example, AWS is advising customers to use its native CloudWatch service, rather than Prometheus, for monitoring. Google does the same with Stackdriver.
Because balkanization of Kubernetes companion technology can undermine progress toward cross-cloud unity, tensions may flare as more enterprises adopt cloud-native infrastructure.
More Kubernetes Consolidation
Every cloud infrastructure company—public services provider or on-prem hardware and software vendor—must have a strong Kubernetes proposition to stay competitive in the current market.
Again and again, acquisitions have proven an effective means for legacy giants to pour fuel on their nascent Kubernetes divisions, or create new ones from whole cloth.
Most notably in that category, IBM’s $34 billion mega-deal for Red Hat, which made a strong Kubernetes play with OpenShift and its earlier acquisition of container pioneer CoreOS.
VMware may have gotten the best deal of them all when it bought Heptio, a startup that laid a foundation for development of Tanzu, the platform that will power Dell Technologies cross-cloud vision in the coming years.
But there are more container-focused startups out there than ever before (Docker being one of them), so expect major cloud vendors to aggressively make M&A moves on them in the coming year.
… And More Security Acquisitions
Enterprises deciding on a cloud provider often want access to a full array of platform-native security tools rather than third-party solutions.
Companies that can’t develop in-house all the capabilities of a modern security stack have to look to buy them. That’s why security acquisitions have been a major theme over the last year.
VMware complemented its organic security development efforts with a deal for Carbon Black, an endpoint protection specialist, and then looked to raise its application security game by buying Intrinsic.
Microsoft upped its data security and governance game when it bought Blue Talon earlier this year. Google brought into its fold Chronicle, a sister company in Alphabet (though some published reports suggest the merger is not a hit.)
Broadcom’s just completed its deal for Symantec. Last year Cisco bought Duo Security and AT&T bought AlienVault to launch a cyber-security division.
But security is such a complex proposition these days that it seems there are always more gaps to fill. The M&A trend will almost surely continue, if not accelerate, in 2020.
There’s no shortage of startups that can help cloud providers of all stripes establish a full-court portfolio of native security features.
Private Cloud Repatriation Gets Real
The inevitable march of workloads into the public cloud is starting to look more like a two-way street.
Containers and other technologies that facilitate application portability are making it easier for repatriation to private infrastructure. Many companies are taking advantage as they become more familiar with the nuanced benefits of different environments.
That doesn’t mean the pace of migrations to public cloud will slow, or even decelerate. But traffic will flow more freely in both directions as some customers realize that some workloads actually see cost savings, and performance and security benefits, when running in software-defined data centers.
And private cloud repatriation will further stimulate the red-hot market enabling hybrid cloud environments.
All SaaS Becomes Intelligent SaaS
Every Software-as-a-Service, IT Ops, analytics and BI product is currently being infused, in various ways and to varying degrees, with machine learning—whether it needs it or not.
Beyond the very real advantages artificial intelligence delivers in automation and insight, the term is a huge selling point, one it never hurts to throw into a product pitch.
And from a chatbot to an inference engine to predictive analytics, it’s easy for AI to find its way into just about any cloud-software product.
Some machine-learning based features are genuinely useful; others just capitalize off the buzz word. But by next year, it will be hard to find a product that’s not billed as intelligent.
As Software-as-a-Service proliferates, more specialized platforms are emerging to manage migrations, operations and spend of those cloud-based apps.
To keep up, SaaSOps is increasingly becoming established as a new role for specialized IT experts, often in concert with products from an emerging crop of Cloud Access Security Brokers.
Vendors like BetterCloud, CloudManager and Blissfully are enabling comprehensive management of solution suites like Microsoft Office 365 and Google G Suite, as well as Salesforce and other leading SaaS vendors.
“The term [SaaSOps] is nebulous now, but can apply to security, license management, spend management, discovery/mitigation of shadow IT, and on-boarding/off-boarding management across platforms and business areas responsible for their own apps,” Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, explained.
Focus Shifts To App Delivery
Kubernetes in many ways has brought order to a turbulent cloud infrastructure market. The container orchestrator is now something close to standard tech for deploying infrastructure to support cloud-native workloads.
That makes it likely competition will move up the stack to focus on improving application delivery, Dan Kohn, executive director of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, told CRN.
Major open source projects will emerge to support ‘app dev’ practices, delivering services facilitating the packaging and deployment of applications.
To make good on that promise, CNCF has launched a new Application Delivery Special Interest Group.
HPC Falls For Cloud (At Long Last)
High Performance Computing workloads are typically run sporadically and in batches—a use case where the unique elasticity of the public cloud seems like a major value proposition.
And yet, the HPC market has largely stayed on-premises, despite the obvious benefits of being able to scale up and down quickly with a hyper-scale provider. Only in recent years have HPC users even begun routinely bursting into the cloud to ease bottlenecks in accessing resources.
The root of cloud skepticism has a lot to do with the kind of work done on HPC systems—they often aid development of new product designs, proprietary data modeling, and advanced simulations. Scientists, engineers and product developers have been wary to allow those crown jewels off-site.
That dam is breaking. Pretty soon the expensive, multi-core systems needed to do advanced computations will shift to public providers.
The impetus to not upgrade capital-intensive data centers, and be able to guarantee resources on-demand, will prove unstoppable, even if HPC costs in the cloud can be tricky to predict.