Enterprise evolution: How the cloud conversation is changing

As 2016 draws to a close, Ahead in the Clouds looks at how enterprise attitudes to cloud have changed over the last 12 months.

At the first Amazon Web Services (AWS) Re:Invent in 2012, the cloud giant worried it might not fill the 4,000 seats it had laid on for the event. Fast forward to 2016, and 32,000 people made the pilgrimage to Las Vegas to see what AWS had to say for itself.

And there was certainly no shortage of product announcements, which include performance enhancements to its cloud infrastructure services, off-premise data transfer appliances and the fleshing out of its enterprise-focused artificial intelligence proposition.

On the back of this, its execs predict the company will have – by the end of the year – expanded its cloud portfolio to include more than 1,000 new services and feature, which is 300 or so more than in 2015.

Charting the changes

Having attended four out of five of the previous Re:Invents, it’s not just the size of the crowds the event attracts these days that have got bigger. The early years featured a developer-heavy crowd, while the customer sessions were dominated by talks from startups, scaleups and a few cloud-first enterprises.

Nowadays, the startup and developer communities are still well-represented, but the number of global enterprises speaking out about their cloud plans has ramped up considerably. Particularly those working in regulated industries and the public sector.

The way the speakers talk about cloud has shifted significantly too, since the early years, when the conversation rarely strayed beyond the cost savings and agility gains replacing on-premise tin with cloud-based infrastructure services can bring.

There was still an undercurrent of that during many of the Re:Invent customer sessions but this used to dominate the entire discussion. Now it’s essentially moved to setting the scene for a conversation about how – having laid the groundwork for cloud – they’re building on this to support their wider digital transformation plans.

In parallel with this Amazon (and others) have all rapidly expanded their product sets way beyond basic infrastructure, and are building out their value-added service propositions accordingly. Proof of that can be seen by their forays into machine learning, databases and analytics, with customers all readily tapping into these tools so they can move faster, innovate and expand into new markets.

Industry-wide cloud evolution

And it’s not just at Re:Invent either. A growing proportion of the case studies that land on AitC’s desk these days rarely focus exclusively on just the “lift and shift” part of the cloud migration story any more, with cost savings and business agility seemingly now just an accepted and assumed benefit of moving off-premise.

The way CIOs frame this part of the work has changed too, in terms of the language they employ to describe the services they use, with  many referring to the server, storage and networking portion of cloud as “the basics” or “the boring bits”, as one CIO termed it recently.

Speaking to AitC at Re:Invent, Jeff Barr, chief evangelist at AWS, said how cloud migrations are proceeding nowadays has changed considerably.

In years gone by, it was not uncommon to see enterprises wait until they had moved some workloads to the cloud before they started kicking the tyres of the other services in the firm’s product portfolio, for example.

“We see both those paths being pursued in parallel. They’ll say, let’s use IaaS, and bring things over and take advantage of some of those features, but then in parallel there’s a team saying let’s build cloud native applications and we’re going to use AI and NOSQL databases and we’re going to use a very agile methodology,” he said.

Time trials

Another notable change is the time it takes enterprises to complete their cloud migrations, added Barr, and how their expectations on this point have evolved over time.

“It used to be, when you talked to senior IT, they would talk in terms of years, and that our cloud is a 2-to-4 year kind of a plan. And that, to me, really meant maybe their successor will deal with doing that because it was far too often non-specific,” he said.

“What I’ve been hearing for at least the past two years is that we have the 18-month plan or the 11-month plan. They are very specific in levels of months and the person currently in the job is the one who is going to carry it out.”

And this is all a very good way of gauging how the cloud adoption journey (particularly for the enterprise) is progressing, he said.

“These are great indicators that they’re serious about doing it, and the short duration of these plans says they want to do it now,” said Barr.

“They see immediate actual value now they would like to realise and they are really important shifts we see happening.”

And while enterprises might not be all the way there on cloud yet, as we prepare for the start of 2017, the momentum is almost certain to continue, and – if anything – accelerate.