Forecasting the future of cloud

The final session at the Toronto Cloud Business Coalition’s cloud bootcamp was entitled “Open Forum: The Future of Cloud Technology.” In it, attendees – who, like TCBC itself, represented virtually every perspective available in the cloud community – were asked to “imagine that in 2021, we are having a discussion about the last five years of cloud. Which technologies and milestones will we focus on? What developments will shape this five year period?” Each participant in the bootcamp (more than 40 in all) was asked to nominate one or more technology types, vendors, or technology-related business or social issues that would become more or less prevalent over the next five years.:

On the rise

Most members of the audience focused on issues, technologies and suppliers that are poised to increase in importance – some of which are already on the rise, and some of which are expected to gain momentum closer to 2021. Responses in the “more!” category included:

  • Open source, Google, and integrators capable of dealing with increasingly-complex hybrid environments (each with multiple mentions).
  • Containers, and Docker and Kubernetes. 
  • Entrepreneurs (as ‘normal’ jobs become more difficult to find).
  • Digital currencies and blockchain.
  • Complex tax situations as services and payments (see above!) become increasingly borderless, and potentially, protectionism as a response to revenue and tax recognition issues.
  • Vendors: In addition to Google, AWS, Microsoft and Red Hat were all mentioned as vendors poised to become more important to the cloud-centric world.
  • In the communications world, 5G and NFV. Also, vendors with a strong play in IoT, including Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE.
  • IoT generally, including a pending split between IoT systems outputting to humans, and the OT-based systems that are more frequently based on M2M communications.
  • Big Data and data quality. These two terms were tightly linked. Big data is clearly on the rise, but attendees believed that as a result, the need to manage data quality will also be a critical consideration over the next five years.
  • Long-tail business opportunities, including (/specifically) micro loans.
  • Community clouds serving the needs of specific user constituencies. Examples of sectors that would benefit from tailored cloud environments included education, healthcare, government, financial and legal.
  • In the IT operations realm, password management, open source hardwarestack monitoring and (of course!) security.
  • Fog computing.
  • Digital Reality, as an example of a company that ‘gets’ the economics of data centre ownership.
  • Software defined – both SDN specifically, and software-defined everything (SDx) as an approach.
  • Easy programming languages that are accessible to non-technical users.
On the decline

There was less focus on suppliers or concepts that were likely to fade over the next five years, as cloud becomes more pervasive within IT and business infrastructure. During this part of the discussion, members of the group called out:

  • Vendors who are current leaders but at risk in the future: IBM, Dell (though the company and Michael Dell personally were also mentioned in the “on the rise” category), Oracle and SAP. Blackberry was also mentioned in this context, though not necessarily as a victim of ubiquitous cloud.
  • PC ownership.
  • Intermediaries as a category – specific examples included travel agents and real estate agents, who are at risk of being obviated by cloud-based applications or marketplaces, but the broader disruption arising from “Uberization” in other parts of the economy was discussed at some length as well.
  • IT people – as cloud advances, there will be less work for IT staff in traditional operations roles. Some bootcamp participants preferred to speak of this in positive terms, as “job shift” – moving from lower to higher-value tasks – but most agreed that it would entail “job loss” within IT.
Broader IT issues

Beyond the on the rise/decline observations, there was a healthy debate on both IT and social issues. Some of the IT issues discussed in the context of cloud over the next five years included:

  • Poor connectivity – to general applause, one attendee made the point that cloud relies on connectivity, and current connectivity resources aren’t sufficient to support greatly-expanded reliance on cloud. There is, the group believed, substantial need for improvements in this area.
  • Transition from “cloud” to “utility.” IT as a utility has been discussed for many years, at least since Nicholas Carr published “The Big Shift.” It is certainly possible to see cloud as leading to a point where IT is treated as a utility – though as one attendee noted, the proof of cloud’s ubiquity will arrive when we no longer speak in terms of “cloud” at all!
  • Self-service and social – these two issues were raised together, as twin examples of how cloud enables users to play a much more direct role in shaping/controlling their environment in (and with) technology. IT needs to be able to to manage and deliver in a non-hierarchical environment, morphing as necessary to react to inputs from around the world and accommodate shifting user needs.
  • The “battle” between long-tail and leading-edge. It isn’t clear whether this is a technology or a social issue – or perhaps more accurately, it’s a bit of both. Over the next five years, we will see some businesses that parlay sophisticated use of leading-edge technologies into soaring valuations and gushing press commentary. At the same time, the vast majority of businesses will progress at a more measured pace, adopting technology (and benefiting from technology) unevenly. Cloud will heighten the difference between these two positions. Will suppliers be able to meet the needs of both groups, and will long-tail tirms be able to remain relevant in a world that celebrates (and is increasingly shaped by) the leading edge?
Broader social issues

Finally, there was also quite a lot of conversation about social impact of anticipated advances in IT, and of whether or how the role of government might or should change to address these issues.

The primary trigger for this discussion was AI. There was consensus that AI will have a major impact on IT and society and employment as a whole in the future, but there was far less agreement as to whether the effect would be positive. Bootcamp attendees coming at AI from a technical perspective believe that AI “has to be the end game for all of us.” Some in that camp believe that this will result in better jobs (for those who still have jobs), and that “we will need people to train the machines.” Others believed that AI will result in a poorer work environment for a large proportion of the population, and that human input in AI is a transitory phase, as the technology itself moves from augmentation (supporting humans) to automation (replacing humans). There was some discussion within the group as to whether government should check the advance of AI by making firms developing and deploying these kinds of systems subject to increased taxation, and more general recognition that this is a social rather than technical issue, and one that will become more prominent over the next five years.

Summing up

The Open Forum discussion clearly caught the imagination of bootcamp attendees – on the feedback forms, it was the highest-rated part of the agenda. It also provided proof of the saying that is at the core of the TCBC approach, “all of us are wiser than any one of us.” Drawing from the collective wisdom of the room – panelists Shawn Rosemarin (VMware), Philippe Theriault (Red Hat) and Ian Rae (CloudOps), plus another 40 or so bootcamp participants – we were able to collectively identify the trends that will shape cloud, ICT and the economy as a whole over the next five years. We will have an opportunity to revisit these assumptions over that time, starting with our CIA-Plus meetups and the Cloud Symposium in October. It will be fascinating to see what in our business world changes – and how, and how fast – in the months to come!




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