The changing nature of the cloud

A collection of IoT devices

Cloud computing has undergone a number of changes over the years. The modern era of cloud computing that we know, i.e. large-scale computing delivered as a utility, has been around for ten years to fifteen years.

But in many ways, cloud computing has been around since the dawn of the internet, although it didn't have that term. Infrastructure-as-a-Service arguably started out life as a Time Share Option (TSO) in the days of OS/390 and the like in 1971, says Jon Wrennall, CTO at Advanced.

"It allowed mainframes to be allocated to multiple users and users charged per second of CPU time. Indeed, it's only now that IaaS is getting close to some of these capabilities," he says.

The cloud emerges and changes

Most view the arrival of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure as being the first cloud (IaaS) services, both of which launched 10 years ago. "The most well-known cloud (SaaS and PaaS) providers started life as ASPs (Application Service Providers) as they were known in the 'Dot Com' era, created in the late nineties," says Wrennell.

Over the years, cloud has improved with new PaaS and IaaS offerings, better virtualisation, greater accessibility, more security, improved processing power and, importantly, the confidence of enterprises and SMBs alike to move important workloads onto shared or hosted infrastructure, according to Rich Lockey, country manager at Crayon UK.

"I think the biggest changes have come from the operational attributes such as reporting and billing capabilities, giving clients the visibility they need to manage their workloads, ensuring the stability operational effectiveness and uptime of the platforms and the commercial attractiveness and competitiveness, with new players entering the market, or being forced to enter the market," he says.


Cloud evolved quickly and as a technology it constantly changed as people chased it. Firstly there was the shift from hardware to IaaS, then to a monthly consumption model, to a self-managed model, to apps and PaaS and SaaS.

"Some people were quick to jump, but most watched," says Rich Marsh, CEO of CIS. "Now we see people moving to cloud technologies everywhere, consuming them and paying monthly subscriptions for them."

While many businesses started off their cloud journey with IaaS, the market is moving towards SaaS, with Office 365 and Salesforce being two successful models.

"The hype of Cloud has calmed down now -- it's just a thing we all consume like electricity, it's seen as a service in our world now," says Marsh

Working together

Line-of-business management has been quick to find ways of using cloud computing to solve specific business problems that may not have had a larger corporate IT focus. Putting aside the "shadow IT" implications, this has provided clear control over the resources needed at a local level and has the potential to make elements of the business much easier.

"Problems come when the business as a whole needs a joined-up strategy for data, or for customer experience management, and discovers that cloud solution silos exist all across the company. Maintaining control over this sprawl, while fostering a spirit of innovation is one of the foremost drivers for recent 'agile' methodologies, combined with a DevOps approach to linking teams in the pursuit of business value from the cloud," says Martin Percival, solutions architect at Red Hat.

Nowadays cloud is very well understood, but Marsh says it has been "technologically dulled down".

"The power of cloud is now a tool, a resource, to harness and draw on as a way of powering systems and applications. IT managers are turning into business intelligence operators, the technical side of IT is being eroded, with software becoming easier and easier to install, deploy, consume from cloud and to work on," he adds.

Looking forward

Percival says there are a few key trends that may develop with the cloud in future.

"Deep Learning and AI will have a huge surge in popularity as people are starting to see the benefits to using these tools to make use of the big data already collected. While the cloud providers will make these technologies much easier to experiment with, the risk is that some of this will be misguided, as these are very much hyped terms and may not be the right solution for all business needs," he says.

Lockey says the cloud marketplace will become more competitive in 2018 and the size of the cloud specific market will grow considerably, with the big change coming in the number of publishers that force their clients to take their applications on a SaaS basis only by removing the on-prem option.

"I would also look out for consolidation in the second tier of SaaS providers and PaaS/IaaS providers to enable them to remain competitive," he adds.

Pete Hulme, technical lead for data centres at Dimension Data, says next year an increase in the popularity of hybrid IT can be expected, as businesses use a combination of public and private clouds to create the optimum solution. "Looking ahead to the next five to ten years, we can expect to see an increase in demand for more agile capabilities and an additional focus on applications rather than just stand-up infrastructure."

James LaPalme, vice president at WinMagic, says that more services will be added to the cloud model, with container technology and microservices dominating as growth areas.

"The next 5-10 years will see an increase in 'everything' as a service. I am a firm believer that over 90% of applications and IT will be delivered as some sort of service."

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.