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Five takeaways from Cloud Expo Europe (and insights to the wider cloud market)

Last week was the Cloud Expo Europe show in London (15th/16th March). This is a big event comprising 5 co-located shows with over 600 exhibitors and attended by some 18,000 visitors.

A great opportunity to catch up with a number of our clients and partners but the thing that particularly interested me was cloud in the enterprise space, not greenfield apps but how and where is cloud being used right in the heart of corporate IT?

When we founded FutureProof this is one of the areas where we saw enormous potential for cloud; finally an opportunity for corporates to get off the merry-go-round of the lift and shift of core business apps between different vendors’ datacenters and be able to reduce cost and improve service levels.

What did I find? Here’s my take-aways from the event (and insights to the wider cloud industry).

1) It was, according to the show organiser, “the world’s biggest and best attended cloud event” except the world’s biggest public cloud vendor wasn’t there. 

At first glance that seems odd as AWS aren’t short on marketing budget but undoubtedly their focus is on their own events such as the Summits, re:Invent and lots of other smaller seminars. It’s also worth remembering they have a policy of not doing competitor comparisons, so by extension why would they go and put themselves side-by-side with the competition? But they weren’t completely absent; AWS were well represented by their partners and a number of key people from AWS also spoke on the seminar programme.

More evidence though of the challenges facing the traditional vendors of infrastructure services: Aren’t you all supposed to go to bring your battalions of sales people to the same shows and fight it out? Just how do you go up against a competitor who doesn’t play by the de-facto rules?

2) Most providers of traditional datacenter and co-lo services are in denial. I sat through half a dozen seminars and panel sessions where they shared their views on public cloud, by and large they adopt one of two positions: 1) public cloud isn’t reliable, isn’t secure etc. you still need us or 2) public cloud is good but you can’t put the important stuff up there so you still need us. “Us” being hybrid cloud, which seems to means “our old stuff rebadged as cloud”.

This particularly irked AWS’s Chief Evangelist Ian Massingham. Always a passionate and engaging speaker, Massingham began his presentation on the afternoon of the second day saying “I did have another presentation for you but after what I’ve seen at this show I want to remind you what cloud is about”. He went on “This isn’t a show about cloud computing, this is about traditional infrastructure being recast as cloud”. He wasn’t wrong.

To be fair to the traditional vendors, when you’ve invested millions of dollars in your datacenters it’s hard to let go but in doing so they create a good case study for the Sunk Cost Fallacy. The reality is the business and the customer don’t give a stuff about datacenters and servers. The business cares about applications that enable them to do their jobs, and customers care about websites that provide them with information or products they need. Ergo, if there’s a better, faster, cheaper way of doing it that provides the same (or better) apps and websites, then the traditional datacenter is dead.

It’s Eastman Kodak and the innovator’s dilemma all over again; by the time Kodak accepted the reality of the digital camera, camera phones came along and both digital cameras and film became niche products.

3) There’s an unbelievable amount of tools and services, in particular there seems to be no end of cloud monitoring and management services.

Given that AWS, Azure and Google come with all sorts of tools already on the platform, for customers it must be near impossible to work out what’s what and which ones they actually need. Obviously great tools like Chef and Puppet stand out but there appeared to be quite a lot of suspect services which are most likely solutions looking for a problem.

Expect to see rapid consolidation in this space over the next few years as the wheat is sorted from the chaff.

4) Over 90% of the seminar programme comprised vendors doing sales pitches with frustratingly few real-world case studies. Some notable exceptions were Craig Charlton, CIO of McLaren Group (automotive), James Barton from the UK Government’s DWP, and an excellent presentation by Tom Clark from ITV, the major British broadcaster. Clark provided an informative, fast-paced tour through how ITV had solved the challenge of enabling the business to get on and use cloud whilst retaining standards and adequate control across the group, you can find him on Twitter here https://twitter.com/tomonocle.

5) DevOps and CI with greenfield apps is now well established in the enterprise space with most large organisations having taken advantage of the many benefits this model brings. But there’s little about the more mundane stuff that makes up the bulk of enterprise workloads such as COTS, in-house/custom build apps, datawarehouses etc.

This is where the majority of server and infrastructure budgets get spent, and in our experience it’s ripe for re-platforming onto cloud. Most of the infrastructure is over-provisioned to meet the demands of spiky apps, there are apps with large, expensive data stores and many apps have inefficient provisioning for test and dev environments.

The makings of the the next big thing for cloud in the enterprise lie here; all large organisations have the opportunity to save millions of dollars every year on their IT budgets whilst increasing flexibility and responsiveness. No wonder the traditional vendors are so keen to offer “cloud”- they know their core business is at risk.

In summary

The enterprise cloud market is at an exciting point in its maturity: public cloud is well established and proven as a model on which large organisations can build modern, scalable applications. A new set of vendors led by AWS, Microsoft and Google will be the primary providers of true cloud services that will be the mainstay of enterprise technology infrastructure.

Traditional datacenters won’t disappear entirely but, as public cloud becomes ever more proven in the enterprise, the business case for tying up considerable Capex in inflexible environments or signing long contracts with vendors becomes harder to make.

So whilst Cloud Expo Europe didn’t have enough real-world case studies of wholesale migration to cloud there are plenty of organisations currently embarking down this path, for sure they’re not the first and they certainly won’t be the last.