Cloud in 2020: The year of edge, automation and industry-specific clouds

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It was a banner year for cloud computing in 2019. The area that gained the most ground was hybrid multicloud, which emerged as the favored strategy of enterprises looking for a flexible and efficient way to move their workloads to the cloud while reducing costs, boosting productivity and avoiding vendor lock-in. Those advantages are so significant that hybrid cloud is now estimated to be a $1.2 trillion opportunity.

That momentum will accelerate further in 2020 as businesses in all sectors use hybrid multicloud strategies to rapidly roll out applications that accelerate the digital transformation of their businesses while delivering exceptional experiences to their customers. At the same time, enterprises will increasingly turn to advanced encryption and protection solutions to ensure that their clouds remain secure in today’s threat-rich environment, and they’ll embrace emerging technologies like edge to extend the reach of their capabilities. They’ll also begin to adopt automation tools to make it easier to keep their complex cloud ecosystems humming along.

Let’s dive deeper into five trends, which we expect to see in the year ahead as enterprises continue on their cloud journeys.

1. 5G will enable more enterprises to use edge as part of their hybrid cloud strategies
Edge computing, where computations are performed as close to where the data is generated as possible, is in many ways the next chapter in cloud. Retailers will benefit from faster updates on consumer buying trends, factories will be able to perform predictive maintenance on equipment that’s about to fail, cellphone carriers will be able to support mobile gaming and augmented reality.

5G is a critical element as more enterprises look to incorporate edge as part of their hybrid cloud strategies. Hybrid cloud will continue to serve as an aggregation point for the most relevant data and back-end functions, while the edge can support analytics and other core functions in real-time where the data is created and actions are taken.

“Edge computing is a transformative technology,” says Ryan Anderson, IBM platform strategist, CTO group for edge development. “Edge is an enabling technology to deliver things that do work to the places that work needs to get done.”

5G is edge’s key enabling technology because it delivers the higher speeds and broader bandwidths required to cut data latency to the bone. As 5G deployments begin to hit the cellular airwaves, hybrid cloud ecosystems will increasingly take advantage of opportunities to perform computations at the edge. The resulting innovations are projected by the GSMA’s Mobile Economy report to contribute as much as $2.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years.

2. Automation will dominate the next phase of hybrid multicloud
Companies are adopting hybrid multicloud strategies at a rapid clip, taking advantage of the flexibility to move mission-critical business applications to the environment of their choosing — public cloud, on-premises or private clouds. Indeed, hybrid cloud is a $1.2 trillion market opportunity and nearly 80 percent of IT decision makers see it in their future. However, the very advantages of hybrid environments, including resiliency, scalability and support for a broad variety of applications, APIs and data types, means they are by nature complicated.

“One of the challenges that’s going to become really important is managing the hybrid multicloud landscape,” says Bala Rajaraman, IBM Fellow and VP IBM Hybrid Cloud. “In 2020, even more enterprises will find themselves using multiple clouds, and the make-or-break for capitalizing on these investments will be how they effectively manage all this data spread across environments.”

The upshot is that automated tools — including early offerings that incorporate artificial intelligence — will emerge in 2020 to help manage this complexity. “AI is transitioning into a function that helps manage operations complexity and security,” says Hillery Hunter, VP & CTO of IBM Public Cloud.

Along with increasingly automated tools, dashboards that provide a big-picture overview of cloud operations will become an important tool for administrators. This will enable enterprises to tune their environments, putting the right workloads in the right place, controlling costs and managing security keys and encryption effectively.

3. Security “command centers” will proliferate as part of hybrid cloud strategies
Some 60 percent of IT decision makers rated security as the most important attribute in selecting a cloud provider. In 2020, tools will emerge that can uncover security insights and respond to incidents faster through dashboards that help centralize operations.

“In the hybrid multicloud world, you need a command center,” says Hunter. “Traditionally, that’s been called a security operations center. That whole space is evolving significantly. We’re seeing tremendous resonance on the notion that a single dashboard in hybrid multicloud is going to be important.”

The emergence of DevSecOps, where security is integrated into the development process itself, is another indication that a more connected security ecosystem is in the cards for 2020.

“Security posture and visibility across all environments is one of the next fronts,” says Hunter.

4. More adoption of industry-optimized clouds, beyond banking
As organizations turn to the cloud, they’re looking for solutions that serve the needs of their specific industry. For highly regulated industries in particular, this means features that offload the burdens of compliance. According to a recent study by Thomson Reuters, financial service organizations, for example, deal with an average of 220 regulatory updates per day — and 71 percent of firms expected that number to increase in the next year.

The financial-services-ready public cloud launched in 2019. That Bank of America will use this industry-specific cloud to host key applications and workloads to support its 66 million banking customers provides both an important proof point and a useful template that other industries will follow.

“We’re going to see more and more industry-specific characteristics,” says Rajaraman. “Ecosystems will have to target particular markets, because it’s very hard to be generic. So, there will be more of a focus on delivering industry-specific value and addressing industry-specific requirements.”

Global research from IBM shows that only 40 percent of organizations today have the skills and strategy to manage a multicloud environment. Here, industry specific clouds help organizations by shielding them from the complexities of their cloud infrastructure and architecture. Perhaps that’s why, according to a recent survey, 61 percent of respondents said that one of the biggest benefits of adopting industry cloud services was ease of management and administration.

5. Open source tools will proliferate to make Kubernetes more consumable
Open source technology is having a profound impact on cloud. In 2019, enterprises turned to open source software to modernize their infrastructure and accelerate their adoption of hybrid multicloud. In 2020, developers will focus on tools that can support rapid deployment of applications, which their businesses need to stay at the cutting edge of digital transformation.

This means widespread uptake of the continuous delivery paradigm, where organizations embrace the DevOps philosophy of rapid builds, tests and deployments. The continuous delivery model is growing in tandem with the increased development of cloud-native applications built from the start to be deployed through containers and Kubernetes.

“You’re going to see an amplification of people moving to Kubernetes and OpenShift in 2020 and start adopting technologies like Red Hat Operators to become an integral part of the Kubernetes ecosystem,” says Rajaraman.

In sum, as we look ahead, enterprises will have a growing palette of options at their disposal to facilitate workload management, speed application deployments, ensure maximum security, exploit additive technologies such as edge, and more. Indeed, the brave new cloud world of the decade that’s about to begin will deliver value, resiliency and responsiveness that could only be dreamt of just a few short years ago.

Alex Wolfe works at IBM Communications and is a former editor for InformationWeek.