Decoding the current state of the cloud industry

Cloud technology has been highly instrumental in the digital transformation of enterprises across the globe, not only for revolutionising how data is stored and accessed, but also for facilitating seamless collaboration between multiple teams and personnel scattered geographically.

Despite the many benefits afforded by the cloud, it is not impervious to flaws and challenges. Many of the issues seem to point at security, which is the case for most digital technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Cloud is already enjoying widespread use across industries, but for it to develop further, challenges would most definitely need to be addressed.

During Jicara Media’s most recent Cloud Frontiers online conference, a panel of cloud experts gathered to discuss current and future trends in the industry, as well as possible solutions to existing tech issues.

The state so far

Cloud technology is not new to Emil Chan, Chairman of the Association of Cloud and Mobile Computing Professionals. He shared that when he worked in a specialised bank for over a decade, the company started migrating into a private cloud. However, there are still facets of the technology that thrill him, such as mobile computing.

“Without cloud, the mobile world is quite dry, because the processing power of (a) mobile phone is not that great. I think with mobile, and now moving on to IoT (Internet of Things), the most interesting part about cloud computing is the acceptance of people hungry for data. So if we combine mobile computing, smart devices, and IoT, then cloud is the only way that the AI can capture data and create values,” Chan said. 

For Abhishek Pradhan, VP/Head of Cloud Technology, Mission Software & Services, Digital Systems at ST Engineering, aside from affording businesses to save on operational costs, cloud is also saving human lives on a daily basis.

“The mainstreaming of edge computing, industrial IoT, I think that’s a very interesting space to watch. For example, when you look at sensors on Indian platforms (and) aircraft, feeding you near real-time data, it’s a lot of things to process, right? And (with) that becoming mainstream, you could do predictive maintenance, you could be way ahead of problems before they become real for you,” he shared.

Another aspect Pradhan is most excited about is multi-cloud orchestration.

“The way the industry has evolved to really make it (cloud) mainstream, make it ubiquitous, democratise it, bring it to the hands of either the consumers or businesses to make sure they are able to utilise the cloud fully,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sean Hong, Regional Director for Strategic Alliance – Cloud at Fortinet, has his eyes on self-healing network technology.

“Among all those technologies, we also see some of the emergence of what we call a self-healing network, which combines improving the user experience and – at the same time – enhancing security. By using the self-healing network, the overall network traffic is pretty much application-driven,” Hong said.

“Now everything’s become more application-centric, where most of these applications are connecting to the cloud. So these are some of the industry moves we see (that) is very exciting,” he added.

Securing the data

For enterprises looking to engage the services of a cloud service provider (CSP), the choice is never easy, given the number of players in the market.

The experts, however, have a few pointers for companies to consider when choosing among CSPs.

“When you really start looking from a multi-cloud perspective, which cloud to choose, the core tenet that you need to have is one from a security perspective. You need to have a model that scales across multiple cloud environments. You need to have that at the forefront,” Pradhan said.

“Second, there’s also this risk of concentration, that you cannot put all your eggs in one basket, because if something goes wrong on a single service provider, it can bring down an entire infrastructure,” he added.

Meanwhile, Hong also advocated for security as the topmost consideration for enterprises when choosing CSPs.

“We need to think (about) how to secure not only (the) network edge, but also covering the on-premises to multiple clouds,” Hong said.

In a recent Fortinet survey, Hong shared, 80% of organisations expressed deep security concerns about migrating their workload to the cloud.

“One of the key factors, what we see is the difference between each of the cloud platforms, because if you look at this from a security point of view, each of these cloud (platforms) have a different building security toolset, different functions, different command structures, different capability or syntax, right? That creates a lot of challenges, not only (for) those who are using the cloud, but the talents as well, and how they learn to adapt the model that these different clouds operate on. So these are big challenges that make the situation even worse,” Hong explained.

The solution, according to Hong, is for enterprises to regain control of their data, regardless of cloud infrastructure.

“From the user perspective, what they really need is a common security and overlay across all different platforms. So by having these abstraction layers, you will have visibility across different clouds. And so you can have control over them. You have an ability to put in place a common security posture regardless where your workload is moving (towards),” he said.

Manpower shortage

Now since the cloud has been established as an integral part of enterprises’ day-to-day operations, the experts agreed that an adequate pool of talent has to be maintained in order to utilise the technology.

For Hong Kong-based Emil Chan, there is an urgent need for more data scientists in the country, otherwise businesses will suffer the consequences.

“The majority of the business activity was on finance. And because there was very slow adoption of technology in Hong Kong, we missed the time to embrace cloud computing. And then a lot of data centres, they moved out from Hong Kong, for example, to Singapore. So now we have a big problem. Even within my association, from time to time, we receive calls from the training companies asking for certified trainers, and we cannot find enough,” Chan said.

Pradhan likewise agreed with Chan’s observations.

“I think talent is a big challenge right now, broadly across borders. One, of course, the pandemic isn’t helping, because cross-border movement of talent is a big issue. Second, also, from a markets perspective, you do see that in certain countries, which are mostly financial centres, people tend to gravitate more towards the current side and towards finance rather than towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” he noted.

One solution to this predicament, Pradhan said, was partnering with schools for the next generation of talent.

“We are saying, ‘Look, we’ll come to you, we’ll help you scale up your students in the last two years of their education. And we’ll train them, we’ll work with them, then we’ll hire them and bring them into the workforce,’ so that there’s a much broader pool of talent in the market,” he explained.

Then there’s the debate whether companies should train in-house talent, or engage outside professionals for their cloud requirements. For Hong, the answer depended on the unique needs of enterprises.

“If they (enterprises) really, really want to fully embrace cloud technology, (they need to) leveraging machine learning or the AI capability, (and) they need to be the architect of the application. That’s not something that can easily be done in-house. So in that case, what we’ve seen on the market, the market requirements for this kind of cloud consulting partner, or the service business are getting bigger and bigger,” Hong said.

Meanwhile, Pradhan advised to maintain a balance between in-house and outsourced talent, to cater to varying degrees of business requirements.

“This is where you get the best of both worlds; you get expertise on the cloud from a partner, or you’re hiring from outside, and your in-house expertise that you made together. And I think that’s a great approach,” Pradhan concluded.