If the dawn of cloud computing can be pegged to AWS’ 2006 launch of EC2, then the market has entered its gangly teenage years as the new decade looms.
While the metaphor isn’t perfect, some direct parallels can be seen in the past year’s cloud trends.
For one, there’s the question of identity. In 2019, public cloud providers extended services back into customers’ on-premises environments and developed services meant to accommodate legacy workloads, rather than emphasize transformation.
Maturity remains a hurdle for the cloud computing market, particularly in the area of cost management and optimization. Some progress occurred on this front in 2019, but there’s much more work to be done by both vendors and enterprises.
Experimentation was another hallmark of 2019 cloud computing trends, with the continued move toward containerized workloads and serverless computing. Here’s a look back at some of these cloud trends, as well as a peek ahead at what’s to come in 2020.
Hybrid cloud evolves
Hybrid cloud has been one of the more prominent cloud trends for a few years, but 2019 saw key changes in how it is marketed and sold.
Companies such as Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and, to a lesser extent, IBM have scuttled or scaled back their public cloud efforts and shifted to cloud services and hardware sales. This trend has roots prior to 2019, but the changes took greater hold this year.
Today, “there’s a battle between the cloud-haves and cloud have-nots,” said Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif.
Google, as the third-place competitor in public cloud, needs to attract more workloads. Its Anthos platform for hybrid and multi-cloud container orchestration projects openness but still ties customers into a proprietary system.
In November, Microsoft introduced Azure Arc, which extends Azure management tools to on-premises and cloud platforms beyond Azure, although the latter functionality is limited for now.
Earlier this month, AWS made the long-expected general availability of Outposts, a managed service that puts AWS-built server racks loaded with AWS software inside customer data centers to address issues such as low-latency and data residency requirements.
It’s similar in ways to Azure Stack, which Microsoft launched in 2017, but one key difference is that partners supply Azure Stack hardware. In contrast, Outposts has made AWS a hardware vendor and thus a threat to Dell/EMC, HPE and others who are after customers’ remaining on-premises IT budgets, Mueller said.
But AWS needs to prove itself capable of managing infrastructure inside customer data centers, with which those rivals have plenty of experience.
Looking ahead to 2020, one big question is whether AWS will join its smaller rivals by embracing multi-cloud. Based on the paucity of mentions of that term at re:Invent this year, and the walled-garden approach embodied by Outposts, the odds don’t look favorable.
Bare-metal options grow
Thirteen years ago, AWS launched its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service with a straightforward proposition: Customers could buy VM-based compute capacity on demand. That remains a core offering of EC2 and its rivals, although the number of instance types has grown exponentially.
More recently, bare-metal instances have come into vogue. Bare-metal strips out the virtualization layer, giving customers direct access to the underlying hardware. It’s a useful option for workloads that can’t suffer the performance hit VMs carry and avoids the “noisy neighbor” problem that crops up with shared infrastructure.
Google rolled out managed bare-metal instances in November, following AWS, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. Smaller providers such as CenturyLink and Packet also offer bare-metal instances. The segment overall is poised for significant growth, reaching more than $26 billion by 2025, according to one estimate.
Multiple factors will drive this growth, according to Deepak Mohan, an analyst with IDC.
Two of the biggest influences in IaaS today are enterprise workload movement into public cloud environments and cloud expansions into customers’ on-premises data centers, evidenced by Outposts, Azure Arc and the like, Mohan said.
The first trend has compelled cloud providers to support more traditional enterprise workloads, such as applications that don’t take well to virtualization or that are difficult to refactor for the cloud. Bare metal gets around this issue.
“As enterprise adoption expands, we expect bare metal to play an increasingly critical role as the primary landing zone for enterprise workloads as they transition into cloud,” Mohan said.
Cloud cost management gains focus
The year saw a wealth of activity around controlling cloud costs, whether through native tools or third-party applications. Among the more notable moves was Microsoft’s extension of Azure Cost Management to AWS, with support for Google Cloud expected next year.
But the standout development was AWS’ November launch of Savings Plans, which was seen as a vast improvement over its longstanding Reserved Instances offering.
Reserved Instances give big discounts to companies that are willing to make upfront spending commitments but have been criticized for inflexibility and a complex set of options.
“Savings Plans have massively reduced the complexity in gaining such discounts, by allowing companies to make commitments to AWS without having to be too prescriptive on the application’s specific requirements,” said Owen Rogers, who heads the digital economics unit at 451 Research. “We think this will appeal to enterprises and will eventually replace reserved instances as AWS’ de facto committed pricing model.”
The new year will see enterprises increasingly seek to optimize their costs, not just manage and report on them, and Savings Plans fit into this expectation, Rogers added.
If your enterprise hasn’t gotten serious about cloud cost management, doing so would be a good New Year’s resolution. There’s a general prescription for success in doing so, according to Corey Quinn, cloud economist at the Duckbill Group.
“Understand the goals you’re going after,” Quinn said. “What are the drivers behind your business?” Break down cloud bills into what they mean on a division, department and team-level basis. It’s also wise to start with the big numbers, Quinn said. “You need to understand that line item that makes up 40% of your bill.”
While some companies try to make cloud cost savings the job of many people across finance and IT, in most cases the responsibility shouldn’t fall on engineers, Quinn added. “You want engineers to focus on whether they can build a thing, and then cost-optimize it,” he said.
Serverless vs. containers debate mounts
One topic that could come with more frequency in 2020 is the debate over the relative merits of serverless computing versus containers.
Serverless advocates such as Tim Wagner, inventor of AWS Lambda, contend that a movement is underfoot.
At re:Invent, the serverless features AWS launched were not “coolness for the already-drank-the-Kool-Aid crowd,” Wagner said in a recent Medium post. “This time, AWS is trying hard to win container users over to serverless. It’s the dawn of a new ‘hybrid’ era.”
Another serverless expert hailed Wagner’s stance.
“I think the container trend, at its most mature state, will resemble the serverless world in all but execution duration,” said Ryan Marsh, a DevOps trainer with TheStack.io in Houston.
Ryan MarshDevOps trainer, TheStack.io
The containers vs. serverless debate has raged for at least a couple of years, and the notion that neither approach can effectively answer every problem persists. But observers such as Wagner and Marsh believe that advances in serverless tooling will shift the discussion.
AWS Fargate for EKS (Elastic Kubernetes Service) became available at re:Invent. The offering provides a serverless framework that launches, scales and manages Kubernetes container clusters on AWS. Earlier this year, Google released a similar service called Cloud Run.
The services will likely gain popularity as customers deeply invested in containers see the light, Marsh said.
“I turned down too many clients last year that had container orchestration problems. That’s frankly a self-inflicted and uninteresting problem to solve in the era of serverless,” he said.
Containers’ allure is understandable. “As a logical and deployable construct, the simplicity is sexy,” Marsh said. “In practice, it is much more complicated.”
“Anything that allows companies to maintain the feeling of isolated and independent deployable components — mimicking our warm soft familiar blankie of a VM — with containers, but removes the headache, is going to see adoption,” he added.
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