Cloud Computing in a Time of Covid-19

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Through the drastic measures many government leaders throughout the world have felt they need to take to combat this plague, the Covid-19 coronavirus is also threatening large swathes of the global economy. It may kill untold millions of businesses and badly damage entire industries.

It thus presents a challenge to recreate many of our ways of living and conducting business. The computing industry — what it does and how it powers itself — is among the businesses facing such a challenge. Recently, as the virus was taking hold of us, Bruce Armstrong Taylor wrote about how sustainable Digital Infrastructure and a societal Digital Transformation have now breached the horizon and are approaching rapidly. I encourage you to read his thoughts, if you haven’t already.

He asked me to follow up with my thoughts about cloud computing as the principal “foundation service” necessary for Digital Transformation. As this is the area in which I’ve made much of my living by researching, writing, and, for the past decade, as Conference Chair of Cloud Expo, I’ve had ample opportunity to talk to many people in the industry. This is what I think I know.

So Far, Not So Good
First, one of cloud’s conundrums has been its relatively modest adoption and uptake. 

Even though cloud has been a newsmaker and legitimate business within IT for about a decade now, our research at Cloud Expo shows that only 10-15% of all enterprise workloads have migrated or been originally deployed into cloud environments to date. 

The numbers for public-cloud have been revealed, well, publicly in recent years, and show impressive recent growth. Revenues among the major cloud providers were said to top US$30 billion in Q4 2019. Annualized, this could be said to represent about 7.5% of Gartner’s estimate of $400 billion spent on servers worldwide.

Very recently, Microsoft Azure was in the news for a demand spike of 775% brought about by a mass work-from-home (WFH) requirement over a 30-day period ending March 30 and driven by the global Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

That has been somewhat clarified since then but the primary point holds — we are in a time of exponential data and internet traffic growth. With data continuing to grow at around 25% annually, according to Cisco, it is thus doubling about every three years and will reach 1,000 times today’s level within 30 years.

What Are We Learning At the Moment?
So the question is, will new habits and insights gained from this pandemic-forced, dramatic change in how big-scale IT is done lead to a mass migration to the cloud? Will the cloud finally move with a decent pace to a majority and then all-in position within global enterprise IT? If so, by when?

The impetus to do this presents a profound challenge to people and organizations involved in the real estate, construction, utility and operations businesses related to data centers. “Existential crisis” might be a better term. The exceptions to this, of course, are those organizations with the very focus to handle vastly increased cloud workloads!

Meanwhile, development and migration to the many IoT Edges in the overall cloud network ecosystem, in particular, could certainly accelerate if enough budget is being directed toward cloud infrastructure generally. The nascent uptake of 5G magnifies this idea. 

Not Horsing Around Here
Think of the big, profound changes society has both faced and caused over the past century – from horses to cars; the emergence of high-speed super-highways to accommodate those cars from trains to planes; from telegraph to radio to TV to the mobile device to the Worldwide Web; air-conditioning, and all that it’s wrought in making offices more vigorous and electrical demands magnitudes larger; and the emergence of the Information Age.

Now, questions:

  • Are we on the cusp of all distributed computing power in grids and meshes that are so full of edges that there will, in essence, be no edges?
  • That the Internet of Everything means, in part, that all of computing lives in decentralized, distributed, disaggregated, interconnected network edges?
  • Is the era of the high-rise – barely a century old, in reality – also coming to an end? How important will physical face-to-face interaction be? Can endless Skype, Zoom, Hangouts plus meetings, in reality, be worse than endless meetings at the office?
  • How much more self-direction will characterize the new, modern corporation than in the past? What will the new, modern corporation look like, anyway?
  • As most of the world’s developed economies also seem to exist in a late-stage capitalism environment that’s being questioned harshly, will there be such a thing as a new, modern corporation, or are they doomed to be the 18th-century trading companies of the 21st century?

The Technical and the Practical
As the old expression goes, we have the technology to engineer cloud-computing architectures, ecosystems, and environments for a range of needs – high-availability needs for many industries, massive storage needs for others, many users of smallish amounts of data, not so many users for not-so-small amounts, and all conceivable variations of users and data.

With the disruption of business and society precipitated by the Covid-19 virus, we now have very practical reasons to do all this. The new drive toward cloud comes from society, not Silicon Valley meetups.Covid-19’s ravages have demonstrated to us thick-headed humans, once again, that we are not in control of the world or our fate. 

Planet Earth has issued yet another warning that all of us continue to be in mortal danger on a daily basis, and the Covid-19 coronavirus (or whatever might be in store this year and next with potential Covid-20 and -21 viruses) may be one of our lesser problems. Unwanted, destructive changes in the global climate are already in evidence, and efforts to address it should not waver even as our attention has been elsewhere the past several weeks. 

The Road to Sustainability Runs Through Accounting
The ongoing, virus-driven collapse in oil prices reinforces the notion that the era of fossil fuel is in its last stages. Renewable, sustainable energy started to make economic sense a few years ago as its development and usage costs dropped dramatically; soon enough, sustainable technologies will be core technologies, it seems.

But we have to do it, not just think about it. Specific migrations to cloud will be a function of how quickly enterprise IT’s budgets are built to accept a new mindset that we are not safe and must seriously address climate change, disease preparedness, and heck, even the possibility of meteor strikes if we want our species to survive over the short and long terms. To make it happen, an education in double-entry accounting is equally important to education in anything else.

We must not forget that all the presumed new cloud that current times are engendering is sustainable cloud. As I said at the top of this piece, fossil fuels are out. New cloud must use not only sustainable energy but as much sustainable construction practice as possible. 

Covid-19 is real. “Covid-XX” will be real, maybe real soon. Climate change is real, and human-driven climate disruption will unleash more deadly viruses, as well as drought, floods, storms, and other plagues. We don’t have a choice about moving toward Carbon Neutral and then Carbon Zero.

Sustainability is not a political movement today, if it ever truly was. It is a business decision, with no less than humanity’s survival at stake.

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