Cloud implementations, previously put off, became a staple of pandemic-era business survival.
The shift to remote everything — work, school, shopping, personal events — caused an uptick in cloud reliance and necessity unlike what enterprise has witnessed in the past.
Nine in 10 cloud decision-makers expect cloud use to exceed plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Flexera's 2021 State of the Cloud. And 40% of businesses accelerated cloud adoption plans because of the pandemic, according to a MariaDB survey released in June.
As cloud implementation shifted, so did strategy. The COVID-19 pandemic acted as one of the biggest shifts in cloud strategy in the technology's history. Businesses trying to stay ahead of future disruptions will rely on a flexible, adaptable cloud strategy drafted today that accounts for the innovations of tomorrow.
"The goal is you need to leverage that and apply it to the business and that's where you start to scale it and drive that enablement."
SVP of cloud transformation at A Cloud Guru
Beyond continuity, the pandemic opened up organizations to use the cloud to advance business initiatives.
"That was about as disruptive as you can get in terms of a forcing function," Drew Firment, SVP of cloud transformation at A Cloud Guru, said. It created an opportunity for organizations to respond to demands of personalization and innovation. A cloud foundation can help businesses meet those demands to be proactive, not just reactive to the circumstances they were dealt.
Shaping a proactive strategy rather than a reactive response allows companies to take advantage of what the future of cloud has to offer.
"They're gonna be able to quickly react to that opportunity, and be able to pivot and drive some innovation very, very quickly because they've already set up that basic foundation," Firment said.
Cloud strategy 101
Cloud strategy differs from cloud implementation. Companies should avoid defining "how" and focus on the "what" instead, according to Brian Adler, senior director, cloud market strategy at Flexera, told CIO Dive in an email. The options for "how" will expand from there.
The cloud strategy should be built into the DNA of the organization to evolve alongside it, according to Firment. Companies can create a cloud center of excellence, chartered at the executive level, to begin driving the cloud strategy and establish best practices.
"Adopting a cloud-native strategy for business, whether it's a new business or whether it's how you evolve an existing business, by the very nature of what you're doing is you're embracing innovation."
Principal and partner of cloud engineering at PwC
The center of excellence federates knowledge to different divisions of the business to empower them to use cloud services, Firment said. Then, as cloud becomes a commodity, the center curates those best practices based on user feedback.
"The goal is you need to leverage that and apply it to the business and that's where you start to scale it and drive that enablement," Firment said. "These organizations have to continuously evolve."
Cloud-native strategies are evolving past infrastructure needs into business strategy. Strategies change as cloud transforms from a replacement for on-premises data centers to a tool for building new applications.
"It's a new model that CIOs are adapting [to]," Bob Moore, principal and partner of cloud engineering at PwC, said. "They need to take a look at the governance model and say, 'Now is not just about replacing my [virtual machine].'"
Instead, CIOs should be considering how to manage applications across public clouds, designing a scalable architecture and looking toward the future.
"Adopting a cloud-native strategy for business, whether it's a new business or whether it's how you evolve an existing business, by the very nature of what you're doing is you're embracing innovation," Moore said. "When you're embracing innovation, you have to govern that differently."
Preparing an adaptable, flexible cloud strategy
In the past, "cloud strategies have changed as the cloud provider offerings have evolved," Adler said. Hybrid or multicloud offerings, cloud-first strategies and the advancement of containers have expanded vendor offerings.
Now, AI and machine learning are causing another shift. "While these technologies may not directly affect cloud strategies, they will have many indirect effects on the applications that are developed and/or migrated under an organization’s cloud strategy," Adler said.
"'Cloud-first' is a common strategy, but it can be a lofty goal ... Not all applications are a good fit for the cloud, particularly legacy (and specifically monolithic) applications."
Senior director, cloud market strategy at Flexera
Cloud will be responsible for the collection, generation and storage of the data that feeds future AI and ML applications. But be wary of blanket cloud-first strategies.
"'Cloud-first' is a common strategy, but it can be a lofty goal," Adler said. "Not all applications are a good fit for the cloud, particularly legacy (and specifically monolithic) applications."
Instead, a flexible, detailed cloud strategy in the format of a "living document" can be modified over time to adapt to cloud needs as they change, according to Adler.
Innovation is driving the next wave of cloud spend, and the strategy has to keep up. Gartner projects global spend on public cloud services will jump 23.1% to total $332.3 billion in 2021, an uptick due to spending on emerging technologies such as containerization, virtualization and edge computing.
A cloud strategy centered on innovation accelerates project timelines. From speeding the product cycle to streamlining data analytics, it embraces cloud earlier to try new products faster, according to Moore.