Sergey Tarasov -

Top 10 cloud stories of 2021

Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 cloud stories of 2021

There have been plenty of ups and downs in the world of cloud over the course of 2021, as the US public cloud giants continue to win deals and grow their share of the market, much to the chagrin of smaller players in certain geographic markets.

In this regard, the public sector has emerged as a core battleground for both public cloud giants and their smaller rivals, both in the UK and US, as IT decision-makers continue to tighten up and evolve their cloud strategies.

On this point, sustainability has emerged as an increasingly important factor in the cloud sourcing decisions of IT buyers, which – in turn – has prompted many players to talk up their environmental credentials in a bid to curry favour.

Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 cloud stories of 2021.           

1. The EU-focused Gaia-X cloud project beset by growing pains

French cloud provider Scaleway set tongues wagging when it went public with its plan to exit the Gaia-X project, which aims to build an open, federated data infrastructure for European companies to host their cloud workloads in.

The company, which was a founding member of the initiative, cited misgivings about the direction the initiative is heading in, while also opening up about its unhappiness at the growing hold and influence the US and Chinese tech giants had over the project.

The situation has prompted questions about what the future holds for the project, with participants and industry watchers seemingly divided over whether the involvement of Amazon, Microsoft and the like in Gaia-X is a good thing or not.

2. UKCloud vs the Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office faced criticism in late November 2021, after details emerged that at least one government department had been briefing suppliers to urgently pull any workloads they had running on UKCloud’s infrastructure out of concern about the firm’s financial security.

The edict is understood to have originated from the Cabinet Office, with the department alleged to have been warning all of the public sector-focused cloud firm’s clients to seek alternative suppliers.

These actions follow a disclosure made in UKCloud’s most recent set of financial accounts, which revealed the firm has been in pursuit of further investment – to the tune of at least £30m since September 2020 – so that it can continue trading.

3. AWS steps up efforts to court public sector cloud buyers

US cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) continued its efforts to trap more public sector spend, with the launch of a promotional campaign geared towards unlocking the cloud spend of local authorities across the UK and Ireland.

According to the UK government’s own G-Cloud spending figures, AWS is now the public sector’s biggest supplier of cloud services, but has – reportedly – had very little direct spend at local council level to-date.

To rectify this, the firm set out plans in late September 2021 to offer local councils a three-month free trial of its cloud infrastructure and software offerings.

4. Decade-long cloud contract between AWS and NHS Education for Scotland raises eyebrows

The training arm of NHS Scotland came under fire from members of the public sector supplier community after details emerged that it had awarded a 10-year cloud contract to AWS, with critics complaining the deal is anti-innovation, anti-competitive and puts the organisation at high-risk of lock-in.

The £15m contract was awarded by NHS Education for Scotland in April 2020, but details of it were only made public in May 2021, with complainants stating the deal was “completely out of step” with how public sector contracts are expected to be conducted.

5. US Department of Defense calls time on massively delayed JEDI cloud contract

After several years of legal quibbles and complaints, the US Department of Defense (DoD) confirmed in July 2021 that it had cancelled its controversial, decade-long, $10bn Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract.

The contract was geared towards supporting the DoD in its push to create a general-purpose public cloud environment so that it could downsize its sizeable on-premise datacentre footprint, but the procurement of it was marred by legal challenges, delays and allegations the contract unfairly favoured AWS.

However, in October 2019, Microsoft was awarded the JEDI contract, prompting AWS to embark on legal action and go on record to accuse former president Donald Trump’s administration of meddling with the process.  

6. Defra steps up support to help government clean up their cloud-focused IT supply chains

The UK government embarked on a series of measures to help departments clean up their IT supply chains, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) leading the way with a project designed to ensure sustainability is factored into public sector cloud purchasing decisions.

Part of DEFRA’s work included the creation of a “cloud sustainability” workstream, tasked with creating a standard that government departments and private sector firms can use to improve the environmental friendliness of their IT supply chains.

7. UK firms told to use cloud to help fight climate change

On a related note, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) started advising UK firms in August 2021 to consider picking up the pace of their cloud migration to do their bit to help tackle climate change.

The advisory was part of a series of suggestions the department made, in support of its net-zero strategy, whereby firms are being challenged to take action to shrink their carbon footprints by 2030.

“Large cloud providers are generally more energy efficient than traditional enterprise datacentres,” said the department, in an advisory note. “So consider moving from on-premise servers to the cloud.”

8. Cloud giants Microsoft and Google commit to becoming water-positive entities

Microsoft and Google went public with their commitments to step up their own efforts to minimise the environmental impact of their datacentres, and wider business operations, by going public with their commitments to becoming “water-positive” entities.

This is on the back of heightening concerns about how cloud datacentres sited in water-stressed areas of the world could be exacerbating drought conditions and making it harder for local homes and businesses to access clean drinking water.

9. VMware CTO declares days of “all-in” single supplier public cloud deployments “are dead”

This year saw many IT buyers turn their attention to refining their cloud strategies and deployments, having found themselves having to accelerate the pace of their cloud migrations during the pandemic.

However, VMware’s CTO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Joe Baguley, said – as enterprise cloud strategies have continued to mature – one thing that has become abundantly clear is that the days of enterprises declaring themselves as being “all-in” on a single cloud provider were dead.

Speaking at a VMware roundtable in April 2021, he said many enterprise CIOs “fell into that trap” of embarking on large-scale, single-supplier, multi-year public cloud migrations only to discover that their workloads do not “work, live, thrive or survive” in their new environment.

“In fact, it’s probably more expensive to run that way [in the public cloud] and it was the wrong thing to do in the first place,” he said.

10. Microsoft offers virtual tours of its public cloud datacentres

The Covid-19 pandemic prompted many enterprises to rethink the way they operate to accommodate the stay-at-home orders and travel bans, and public cloud giant Microsoft revealed that it was no different in that regard.

The firm launched a service this year that would allow prospective and existing users of its cloud platform to take a virtual tour of a typical Azure datacentre so they can get a behind-the-scenes look at the technology powering their off-premise deployments.

Microsoft revealed that – pre-pandemic – it hosted thousands of physical tours a year, and its virtual tour offering has turned out to be just as popular with participants.

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