It’s become a worn cliché to say 2020 was a year when everything changed, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And one of the biggest changes was the way many of us worked.
It can be hard to keep up with the pace of technological development at the best of times, let alone at the outset of a global pandemic when everyone’s suddenly told to stay at home and adapt accordingly.
Whilst the pandemic might have forced many of us to change how we work, it’s likely the developments we are seeing would have happened at some point, if not quite so urgently. That’s certainly true of the migration to Cloud computing, which was well under way long before we’d heard of Covid-19.
But 2020 has focused minds in so many ways, and the switch to Cloud-based services has picked up pace. It’s something that seems to be at the forefront of people’s minds, anyway: our recent Digital Business Report found that nearly 60 per cent of organisations now have Cloud strategies in place, up from just under 50 per cent a year earlier.
What is Cloud-based software?
Cloud computing is a simple concept – it’s about accessing computing services over the internet rather than having to store them on your own hardware within your business.
It enables you to store and access databases, information and programs at a remote location. You can access them wherever you are when you go online, in the same way you can access your Hotmail or Gmail from any computer.
The benefits to your business include not needing your own physical servers, which are expensive to install and maintain. Your Cloud provider also takes care of things such as licensing and supporting the software, including security and updates.
So what Cloud software trends are on the horizon?
Increased use of Cloud-based software
Had the pandemic struck 15 years ago, the situation for many businesses might have been even more dire than it has been. The existence of Cloud computing, though, has been a godsend for many, enabling them to continue all, or some of their operations even when their premises were closed and staff had to suddenly work from home.
As a result, Cloud software has had a perfect opportunity to show off its wares. More organisations that had not fully embraced the concept will now be considering moving to the Cloud entirely – either through necessity or because they’ve seen the benefits first-hand.
In our most recent Annual Trends Report, about 60 per cent of the businesses we spoke to said that prioritising Cloud software and other technology would be among their spending priorities over the next year, and more than 40 per cent of them said remote and flexible working would be a priority this year.
According to Forrester Research, the global Public Cloud infrastructure market will grow 35 per cent to $120bn this year, reflecting this sentiment.
An ever-growing focus on security
It’s a fact of life that criminals are adept at developing at the same pace as everyone else around them. So, as more and more businesses migrate to the Cloud, these services become increasingly attractive targets for hackers. This can be anything from individual cyber-criminal attacks right through to state actors.
As the number of Cloud users increases, the risks grow simultaneously. There’s the double whammy of having to monitor and protect more data at a time when that data is becoming ever more desirable to those who shouldn’t have access to it.
The recent hacking of the Pentagon highlighted that the risk can never be eliminated, but it needs to be managed, so Cloud providers will be working hard to stay one step ahead of those who want to access data for nefarious purposes.
Data privacy and compliance
As well as the damage that can be caused by criminals, there’s the wider issue of data privacy and compliance.
We can expect regulations to be tightened globally. Businesses in Europe should be well versed in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by now, and other jurisdictions are following the lead.
Some large household names have been hit by data breaches in recent years. If those giants can fall victim to breaches, smaller businesses migrating their data to the Cloud will be understandably nervous.
Due to the sudden nature of Government lockdowns at the outset of the pandemic, there was perhaps an inevitable rise in data breaches. Some of it was down to simple things such as employees working from home using unsecured devices.
But data breaches are not just dangerous and illegal – they can shake consumer confidence. The cost to your business can be a lot more than any initial fines or bills for clearing up the short-term mess.
So, we can expect more focus on the encryption of data before it’s moved to the Cloud, and more scrutiny of the security processes that Cloud providers have in place. Data security is likely to become one of the biggest selling points for them.
Public Cloud providers will continue their growth
Public Clouds – services available to anyone who pays a fee to use them – are expected to continue their dominance within the IT sector.
According to analysis by IDC, last year saw spending on Public Cloud IT infrastructure surpass spending on more traditional IT for the first time. It’s all part of a spending trend that IDC thinks will double to about $500bn within the next three years. It means that Amazon Web Services (the leader by market share), Microsoft, Google and Alibaba will continue their rapid growth – and with such huge potential revenues on the table, we can expect them to continue innovating as they bid to claim as large a slice as possible of the ever-increasing pie.
Meanwhile, Private Clouds – which are bespoke and designed for specific users – could benefit from customers who want greater customisation than is available from Public Clouds or who have specific security issues.
Virtual Cloud desktops
The move to working from home was a major part of how things changed last year. It went from being a perk for many to becoming something that Governments mandated us to do. With things unlikely to go back fully to how they were pre-pandemic, there is going to be a greater role for virtual Cloud desktops, as described by Forbes.
This effectively involves an employee’s entire workstation being accessible via the Cloud on any device at home. Remote workers don’t have to move any hardware from the office, and they are not required to carry out any hardware updates. It gives businesses a better handle on security as employees won’t need to take their work devices home with them. Amazon, Microsoft and Google are the major players in this branch of Cloud computing.
There can be few brands that have benefited from exposure during the pandemic more than Zoom. ‘To Zoom’ has become as ubiquitous as ‘to Google’, and it reflects an explosion in video conferencing over the past 12 months.
It has been embraced not just by families cut off from each other for health reasons – it’s also given employees the ability to communicate both one-to-one and in large groups.
The next stage of video collaboration is likely to involve new features. In Computer Weekly, Mitel’s Richard Roberts gave the example of digital whiteboards to make virtual meetings feel more real. Other features could be ‘shoulder-tap buttons’ or quick-call functions, he said.
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