The future of cloud-enabled work infrastructure is a tango of multicloud solutions, federated security, and distributed DevOps.
COVID-19 has driven a fundamental shift in business-architecture assumptions. Overnight, many organizations have had to shift their cloud infrastructure strategies. In fact, in a Logic Monitor survey, 87% of global IT decision-makers agree the pandemic will cause organizations to accelerate their migration to the cloud, anticipating a decline in on-premises workloads by 2025.1 That accelerated adoption has started already (figure 1). Companies worldwide spent US$34.6 billion on cloud services in the second quarter, up roughly 11% from the previous quarter.2 As Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, states, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”3
With most of the global workforce remote, major public cloud providers witnessed a huge surge in demand for their services. Such volumes stressed traditional infrastructure (e.g., virtual private networks) and forced organizations to lift and shift to the cloud quickly, leaving room for further optimization. Stay-at-home orders made it difficult, if not impossible, to access on-premise infrastructure highlighting a key infrastructure risk.4 The vulnerability of tightly interlocked business and technology architectures to stress has become apparent.5 For these reasons, we expect to see a shift in cloud strategies toward cloud migration, security, operations, value planning, and DevSecOps (short for development, security, and operations) as well as a retraction of cloud native, container, and serverless initiatives (figure 2).
As organizations respond to COVID-19 with a renewed cloud focus, they face IT complexity, security risk, and operational efficiency challenges. While some organizations are deprioritizing or delaying nonessential cloud migration plans,6 resilient leaders and organizations have an opportunity to modernize their technology backbones with scalable cloud infrastructure.7 When designing an approach, Deloitte’s research has shown that the “magic mix” to resolving cloud complexity is having effective tools (34%), approaches (34%), and people (32%).8 For many organizations, this means reigniting cloud programs and employing new strategies across development and operations (DevOps), federated security, and multicloud solutions for heterogeneous infrastructures to optimize process, mitigate risk, and manage complexity. Organizations that move quickly have an opportunity to rethink how technology is enabling virtual work, workforce, and workplace and to use infrastructure as a competitive differentiator (figure 3).
Multicloud and hybrid cloud strategies are now the norm, with an industry study finding 93% of organizations using cloud infrastructure are employing a multicloud strategy, 87% of which are using a hybrid (public and private) cloud infrastructure model. As much as 85% of enterprises agree hybrid cloud is the “ideal” IT operating model, with 61% of respondents reporting the need for application mobility across clouds and cloud types as “essential.”9
As such, many organizations have moved beyond the initial challenge of selecting multiple cloud providers, determining what data to store in public or private cloud services, and managing interoperability across their multiple cloud infrastructures. The next frontier in managing cloud complexity will likely be about building on that foundation by configuring tools, software, and technology to deliver a full-stack, multicloud solution—whether that includes identity and access management, network monitoring, metadata management, or artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps) to manage workforce systems and platforms used to perform work.10 Multicloud solutions should consider orchestration across these tools and technologies to manage data, resources, and workflows and help ensure the most efficient flow of data across the full solution architecture including storage, databases, platforms, and even security. Only then can the multicloud infrastructure efficiently and securely support business applications to drive value on an application-by-application basis.
In a COVID-19 context, what can be especially challenging for multicloud solutions is finding a good application fit for those technologies, quickly. The temptation is often to leverage whatever platform or service is in a hype cycle. However, moving to an application that is not a good fit for any new platform is typically going to fail. Organizations should first understand the application itself, understand the connected data, and the underlying architecture, and then assess if any of these new technologies is a fit. Kubernetes, an open-source project by Google to automate container deployment, management, and scaling, is an example. Flexera’s annual cloud study shows businesses use an average of 2.2 public and 2.2 private clouds11 and 20% of organizations are using Kubernetes in production or for development and testing.12 But that doesn’t mean others should rush to use Kubernetes. Instead, companies could do well to think about what cloud management resources are needed to support the underlying business application—in this case, remote work infrastructures and collaborative working environments—and work back from there to select the right tools that bring the right services (figure 4).
A few key considerations for managing multicloud infrastructure, perhaps even more important now in a pandemic-ridden world, include building common data services, managing heterogeneous infrastructures, resolving endpoint complexity, and embracing new methodologies in IT operations (ITOps) including AIOps.
Virtualized data warehousing has allowed large retailers, such as The Home Depot, to react faster to consumer needs across its supply chain. The Home Depot tracks more than 50,000 items across 2,000 locations, analyzes what items are sold when and where in real time with the internet of things (IoT), the edge and the cloud, and course corrects accordingly.14
While COVID-19’s impact on work, workforce, and workplace has forced IT to manage increasingly heterogeneous infrastructures with new tools and techniques, many infrastructures themselves are facing new security challenges, given that the where, what, and how of work has changed. As IT focus shifts to accommodate the new ways work is being done across altered workplace locations, the very context for security monitoring with an entirely new infrastructure composition—use of home internet, personal mobile devices, etc.—has changed. This has reinforced a need to focus on federated security strategies known for their success in managing distributed, heterogeneous infrastructure security across tiers, and driving situational awareness. Federated cloud frameworks allow organizations to deploy, integrate, and manage multiple cloud computing services.19 They can help define and implement federated security protocols across the application, network and system layers, and the cloud security center. The focus should be on proactive defense monitoring (early warning, command, and control) and managing access point attacks against malware, advanced persistent threats and network intrusions across infrastructure tiers, data storage, trusted platforms, websites, and operating systems. All this should be done to help enable dynamic threat information sharing.20 The US Department of Homeland Security, for example, created a cyber defensive and intelligence-sharing ecosystem that incorporated various defensive technologies (aspects of its moving target defense and cloud systems security) into federations of enterprises across a network of organizations to enhance security against known and novel attacks.21 As federated security has matured, organizations are increasingly focused on web services,22 security-as-a-service for a cloud federation,23 multicloud environment,24 blockchain-enabled frameworks, and network ecosystems25 (figure 5).
These trends will likely continue to develop, in addition to several new ones introduced by remote working orders, triggering new work infrastructure related to trusted network access, perimeter-based security, federated instant messaging (IM), and federated computing down to the end-point level.
Many companies succeed with small cloud migrations, but when it comes to scaling the cloud, they stumble over organizational and process bottlenecks.37 This is where DevOps can streamline processes. DevOps encourages great communication and collaboration (in other words, teamwork) to foster better-quality software more quickly with more reliability. DevOps is a culture shift. Another study found that DevOps plus cloud is a multiplier that improves performance by as much as 81%.38 It’s no surprise then that an industry analyst firm showed double-digit DevOps tools growth in 2019, with worldwide revenue reaching US$8.5 billion.39
The easiest part of DevOps is the technology—automated scripts, continuous integration and delivery, and automated provisioning. Where organizations tend to struggle is transforming existing processes and structures to support automation and drive a culture change across a range of operations. These can be done via change management, deployment, user acceptance testing, security, compliance, and ongoing product strategy.
What’s changed with COVID-19 is that when people and teams are working remotely across nonstandardized infrastructure, processes should change. This is a unique opportunity to build greenfield processes and infrastructure given that pressing organizational needs are outweighing some of the usual barriers. In the postpandemic world, when organizations recover, decisions made now should enable companies to rationalize, standardize, and create more repeatable processes. DevOps strategies should evolve to bring in new, flexible communication and collaboration techniques that factor increasingly fragmented, remote, and heterogeneous work environments (figure 6).
We expect an increased focus on agile release cycles, virtual collaboration tools, hyperautomation, and continuous improvement across the entire product life cycle as organizations continue to shift left toward end-to-end DevOps.
COVID-19 has affected work, workforce, and workplace in dramatic ways and forced organizations to think about their future infrastructure needs and accelerate their movement to the cloud that can better handle constantly shifting business and workforce needs. Multicloud solutions and hybrid cloud technology strategies are the norm for those already in the cloud and will likely continue to see increased adoption as they enable business flexibility.
The next frontier of managing cloud complexity will likely be developing multicloud solutions that use the right combination of tools, software, and technology to manage cloud services and enable business applications—everything from orchestrating data from virtual data centers to implementing AIOps. These heterogeneous IT infrastructures are seeing shifts in consumption that make cloud—given its flexibility—a favorable solution. At the same time, it creates new access points and a large surface area for cyberattacks. Changes to location have made the perimeter-in-perimeter security obsolete, necessitating a shift to federated security models that can better manage security across infrastructure tiers and devices.
Finally, ways of working have been altered in profound ways, prompting organizations to double down on DevOps best practices that increase collaboration and introduce new approaches for a distributed world. Organizations can look to double down on agile development, embrace ChatOps for virtual collaboration, automate DevOps processes that continue to shift left, and step into new roles to support an IT-as-a-service operating model. This combination of multicloud solutions, federated security, and distributed DevOps can help create a future of cloud-enabled work infrastructure needed to make virtual business infrastructure work.
Cloud is more than a place, a journey, or a technology. It’s an opportunity to reimagine everything. It is the power to transform. It is a catalyst for continuous reinvention—and the pathway to help organizations confidently discover their possible and make it actual. Cloud is your pathway to possible.