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Welcome to the ‘cloud-also’ future

Image: Adobe Stock / Ar_TH

According to recent IDC research, approximately 50% of today’s storage workloads run on-premises and 50% run in the public cloud, and all indications suggest that this balance will remain in the future. In other words, both on-premises and public cloud data sets will grow.

Enterprises are shifting from a ‘cloud-first’ or ‘cloud-only’ posture to a ‘cloud-also’ posture that embraces both hybrid-cloud infrastructure (on-premises and in hosted public clouds), and multi-cloud infrastructure (where cloud services are used from multiple cloud providers and MSPs). Many enterprise IT infrastructure leaders are somewhere on this journey and looking for the right strategy for their business.

A trend toward repatriation to reduce costs and make expenses more predictable

The original promise of the public cloud was to enable IT to reduce costs by moving applications and workloads to the public cloud. And the public cloud certainly delivers on flexibility and elasticity, enabling enterprises to bring up application environments quickly and to provide ‘burst’ capacity when needed.

Enterprise IT organisations are now realising, however, that it still requires IT resources to administer public cloud services, and some of the original cost savings promised have not materialised. In a macroeconomic environment where many businesses are looking to save costs, IT departments are revisiting their cloud storage strategies and their cloud spend, to reassess what makes sense for their business today.

Some enterprises have recently repatriated workloads from the public cloud due to both high ongoing costs and unpredictable monthly expenses. To expand on this, let’s take an example of data stored in a public cloud archival storage service. That data is generally inactive, and perhaps is a backup copy kept in the cloud for disaster recovery or a primary copy of inactive data that was moved to the cloud for cost reasons.

In either case, when this data is going to be accessed is impossible to predict. Perhaps if it is a disaster recovery (DR) copy, it needs to be retrieved from the cloud for DR testing, or perhaps a localised disaster or data loss event. If it is a copy of inactive data – such as an aggregation of data from a completed project – it may be pulled back from the cloud at any time to be modified or to iterate on the original data set to produce some new result.

Retrieving data from the public cloud is expensive – and these expenses can occur at any time, making them very difficult to budget for. So it is both the absolute expense and the unpredictable nature of the expenses that are driving enterprises to revisit their cloud strategy.

A hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud future

There has also been increasing competition in the public cloud arena, giving enterprises new options to move applications and data between cloud providers as a way to reduce costs and gain access to new services. In many countries around the world, there is a move toward data sovereignty – keeping data from a particular country with an in-country public cloud provider or MSP. Not all data will be stored in the ‘big five’ cloud providers.

Enterprises are looking for options to be able to quickly port applications and workloads between clouds, but doing this in a way that is seamless to their internal users and external customers. So for many IT organisations, the future will be multi-cloud in addition to hybrid-cloud.

The role of private clouds and the rise of as-a-service offerings

The public cloud has introduced many amazing benefits to the industry. Ease of use, flexibility, and elasticity of resources – the ability to quickly add more performance, more capacity, more services at the click of a few buttons. And data storage vendors have taken note, shifting their portfolios to be more ‘as-a-Service’ oriented, subscription oriented, and using technologies used in the public cloud like microservices to deliver more resilient, more automated storage systems.

For public cloud storage services in particular, many storage vendors can offer a cloud-like experience on-premises, giving enterprises the ‘elastic’ and ‘simplicity’ benefits of the cloud, without the high ongoing expenses or the unpredictable monthly expenses due to retrieval fees.

Advice for IT decision makers and buyers

There is increasing consensus that it will be a ‘cloud-also’ future. The right decision is not to ‘go to the cloud’ because it is the trendy thing, but instead assess which workloads are best suited for the cloud and which are not. Start by looking at your total cloud spend and the various services you are paying for. You may get some ‘quick wins’ and find some savings by exploring different cloud providers, or by repatriating certain workloads to an on-premises private cloud, which will only serve you better in the long term too.

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