2020 was a big year for cloud adoption, with the pandemic accelerating digital transformation and driving the need for remote-working capabilities. With cloud adoption expected to soar over the next 12 months from the increased numbers of connected devices and use of big data, we look at the cloud trends that will impact the channel in 2021.

Although the shift to the cloud was well already underway before the pandemic, the proportion of IT spending allocated to cloud has accelerated through the COVID-19 crisis as companies look to improve operational efficiencies and agility. According to IDC, more than 40% of enterprise customers will significantly increase their spending on cloud this year. Cloud – especially cloud-based apps and services – brings speed, agility and scalability, and more than 80% of enterprises will put a mechanism in place by the end of 2021 to shift to cloud-centric infrastructure and applications twice as fast as before the pandemic.

Cloud adoption set to spike

The global public cloud infrastructure market will grow 35% to $120 billion in 2021 as cloud continues to take centre stage in the recovery from the pandemic. While SaaS will still be the largest market segment for end-user cloud IT spending – it’s expected to grow approximately 16% to $117.8 billion – application infrastructure services (PaaS) is expected to grow at 26.6% to about $55 billion.

The growth in PaaS is driven by the need for remote workforces to access high-performing and scalable infrastructure via modernised, cloud-native applications. As cloud facilitates remote work environments, businesses will continue to migrate workloads and use more PaaS resources to take maximum advantage of the transition to hybrid working.

Hybrid cloud is better by design  

The lift-and-shift approach to cloud migration – where the application is moved from a traditional data centre to a cloud platform with few changes to its underlying code or dependencies – will lose some of its appeal as hybrid cloud continues to mature and businesses are increasingly able to achieve their goals. The ability to take advantage of the low-cost scalability of public cloud and combine it with the single tenancy security of private cloud makes it ideal for businesses wanting to expand computing capacity.

Cost savings are typically a key factor when considering a shift to the cloud, which is beginning to look less attractive owing to the highly optimised on-premises cloud environments of the future. This provides a huge opportunity for partners to promote the benefits of a hybrid cloud approach which can afford greater strategic control over what runs, balancing cost, performance, security, compliance and governance.

AI and ML use to expand

Cloud adoption gives enterprises the opportunity to access advanced technologies such as AI and machine learning.  The use of these is expected to become far more widespread during 2021, with businesses in all sectors and of all sizes using them to increase efficiency and productivity. Cloud-based as-a-service platforms enable users to access machine-learning functions such as image recognition, language processing and recommendation engines.

AI and machine learning will play an increasing role in making the cloud work better. They will be used to assist the complex logistics processes required to operate large data centres, such as monitoring the health and predicting the failure of hardware, networks and cooling systems. They will also enable partners to optimise data centres so that they run faster and more efficiently, improving services for customers while reducing their carbon emissions.

Going serverless

While the centralised cloud isn’t going anywhere, developments in serverless computing and the creation of distributed service layers around the cloud are powering new, real-time IT applications. Serverless takes the popular pay-as-you-go and as-a-service cloud models to a new level, with vendors running the server and managing the allocation of machine resources that customers use. This will benefit users because they are charged on the actual amount of resources their apps consume rather than paying for pre-purchased capacity.

The other advantage is that businesses can make use of cloud services without having to manage or operate the servers, provision capacity or undertake patching, as these are all taken care of by the vendor – hence the term ‘serverless’. In this way, serverless computing gives businesses greater freedom to focus on business-related projects, and Gartner believes it will be adopted by around 20% of global businesses by the end of 2021.

Edge is the new cloud

Reacting to changes in the workforce and operations caused by the pandemic will be the dominant driver for 80% of edge investments in 2021. The network edge bridges the gap between the centralised cloud and end-users, providing low-latency application and content performance for all users, wherever they are working from. It also serves as a foundation for long-term digital resilience, greater operational flexibility and enabling businesses to scale.

As a result, 2021 will see a big emphasis on enterprise network edge security and protecting users, services, applications and data, as businesses embrace these distributed-application environments. Achieving high levels of security throughout the network edge and into the last mile of distribution is a key challenge, and partners should help enable it with security services at the network edge.

Next wave of IT is tied to cloud

The next major wave of technology disruption is already emerging in the form of AI, IoT, edge computing and advanced data analytics, but these innovations are tied to a cloud foundation. In the end, cloud solutions are not about technology, but about benefits and outcomes, and this is where partners need to focus.

Cloud applications and cloud-native SaaS solutions are becoming the currency for how businesses achieve their objectives and stay competitive. Partners must act as trusted advisers in this new business dynamic to help customers shift to a cloud-centric IT model to maintain competitiveness and make the organisation more digitally resilient. Those who are nimble and agile will adapt quickest to the pandemic and shift more workloads to the cloud.

To learn more about the biggest changes affecting the channel in 2021, download our industry trends eBook now.