Cloud Rising: New Survey Shows Increased Level And Sophistication Of Business Use

Author

Kurt Marko, Contributor

February 19, 2015

Those of us that expound the benefits of cloud services must calibrate our analysis and opinions with real world data about what actual operators of business IT systems are doing. Although logic and historical analogies may argue that utility IT services will inevitably displace most on-premise infrastructure, actual observation can throw logic right out the window. For several years, RightScale, one of the leading developers of cloud management software, has canvassed its customer database to assess the state of the cloud, which this year is best summarized as healthy, maturing, but still developing.

The survey’s headline number finds 93% of respondents using cloud services, most on both private and public infrastructure, but adoption is wide, not deep. Noteworthy is the fact that 30% of these only use public cloud, a figure that’s undoubtedly skewed by the fact that 45% of respondents hail from organizations with fewer than 100 employees. Indeed, as I wrote last year, the ethos among tech startups is to keep IT infrastructure as lean as possible, owning little more than some laptops and a broadband router, while using the cloud for all the things corporate IT departments traditionally provide. While SMBs are more “cloud focused” by RightScale’s definition, a greater share of large enterprises, 83%,  are using cloud services in some form.

Most large enterprises employ a hybrid of public and private cloud, with just 23% opting for an all-public strategy. Doing the math (since RightScale doesn’t break this out separately), that implies about a third of smaller organizations rely solely on public cloud. Despite broad cloud adoption, RightScale’s data show that most large enterprises are still kicking the tires and not yet fully committed to cloud infrastructure. Over two-thirds of respondents have less than 20% of their application portfolio running on clouds. Of the remainder, it’s doubtful many run more than half of their workloads.

Companies clearly aren’t yet ready to cede total control of IT infrastructure to the likes of Amazon and Microsoft. The reluctance isn’t only due to IT foot-dragging, but evidence of shortcomings in legacy applications that render many infeasible to operate on shared, virtualized cloud systems. The survey finds almost half of organizations say less than 20% of their applications are even cloud-ready.

RightScale’s data does show an encouraging increase in cloud understanding and maturity among central IT organizations. For example, the security bug-a-boo, long a source of cloud FUD, is waning as 41% of respondents cite it as a significant challenge, down six points from last year. Indeed, 28% of respondents in corporate IT now view public cloud as a top priority, up 10 points from a year ago.

Adopting DevOps, that is merging software development, QA and IT operations into a lean, agile organization committed to constant innovation and fast failure, is now standard practice at two-thirds of the organizations represented in RightScale’s survey, with large enterprises leading SMBs in adoption. Of DevOps users, Docker application containerization is red hot, with nearly half either using or planning to deploy the lightweight alternative to system-level VMs. Given containerization’s benefits of lower resource usage, portability and rapid deployment across systems and consequent higher level of code sharing, and with all the major cloud providers offering some form of Docker service, we expect usage to ramp substantially in the coming year.

Cloud proponents, including me, often tout its cost savings, while many organizations like the financial flexibility provided by moving fixed capital expenses to recurring and adjustable operating costs. While important, these benefits are among those least cited by Rightscale’s respondents as cloud benefits. Instead, cloud adopters are induced by the instant availability, scalability and high availability of cloud services. Indeed, speed, agility and reliability trump cost and performance and cost as key drivers of cloud service growth.

When it comes to public cloud usage, AWS remains the most popular, however its growth among RightScale respondents is plateauing. Meanwhile, use of Microsoft Azure IaaS doubled since last year’s survey. In a sign that the old tech enterprise IT providers are playing catch-up in the cloud era, VMware vCloud AIr, IBM Softlayer and HP Helion Cloud brought up the rear. Indeed, vCloud and Helion actually lost share over the past year. The data confirms what I and other analysts have predicted, that economies of scale favor the largest cloud services. In summarizing one of the four disruptive factors affecting the data center market, Gartner put it this way, “Traditional managed service providers (MSPs) and infrastructure providers are failing to deliver compelling alternatives to platform as a service (PaaS) from Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Baidu. MSPs are relegated to providing basic transport, or, at best, become managed service brokers. Amid this churn, traditional vendors find it increasingly hard to compete.”

While private clouds are still growing, even among large enterprises, private cloud usage has peaked. The share of respondents using VMware vSphere, vCloud and Microsoft System Center was virtually unchanged since last year. At SMBs, private cloud adoption dropped across the board.

One could quibble that RightScale’s survey isn’t a statistically ideal measure since there’s some selection bias in only questioning those that have already expressed an interest in cloud software, however only 24% are RightScale users. However, with over 900 respondents, about a third of them from large enterprises with at least a thousand employees, and a good cross-section of respondents from various industries, regions, job categories and level, RightScale’s data is an important indicator of cloud adoption trends, product usage and concerns.

Although cloud adoption is broad and shallow, with a strong preference for hybrid public/private systems, the momentum is clearly towards the largest public services like AWS, Azure and Google. By exploiting growing cost advantages, higher efficiency and resource utilization and a richer set of platform services, public clouds will increasingly be the infrastructure of choice for new business applications and technology services.

This article was written by Kurt Marko from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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