In the ongoing battle of public cloud versus hybrid cloud, the latter seemed to be gaining the upper hand recently as analysts noted an emerging trend of customers disengaging from a pure-cloud play in favour of a hybrid one, utilising their own on-prem infrastructure.
And then COVID-19 arrived, kicking the battle into a higher gear and giving the public cloud its second wind.
As organisations of all sizes around the world are forced to implement remote working policies for the majority of their staff for an indeterminate period of time, many have turned to public cloud providers to help them pivot their office network-based processes to accommodate home working.
Demand has been so strong that Microsoft reported constrained capacity in a number of regions on its Azure platform. It has increased server capacity to those regions, and has maintained that emergency services will take priority in such circumstances.
However, those organisations using on-premise infrastructure as part of their cloud strategy faced their own challenges, in the forms of delayed product deliveries and on-site access. Many have to turn to the public cloud to maintain business continuity.
As many European companies slowly ease their lockdown restrictions and as organisations transition their employees back to the office, has the public cloud proven itself to the doubters? And if so, has it won the battle against the hybrid cloud?
Dan Scarfe, founder of Microsoft Azure partner New Signature, strongly believes that the demand for the public cloud during the pandemic is the "final nail in the coffin" for on-prem and hybrid cloud.
"It really demonstrates just how fragile they were due to the fact that people can't get into offices or datacentres anymore and it's the perfect reason why they would want to look at cloud when all they need is a terminal and they can do anything," he stated.
Demand for cloud migration has skyrocketed as a result of the surge in remote working, he said, adding the trends that he was seeing around cloud adoption pre-pandemic are still there, but that the excuses for not migrating are now weaker.
"People were perhaps coming up with reasons for why they couldn't do it, for example security and compliance," he explained.
Now, there's been a bit of a wakeup call that you can't keep coming up with excuses as to why you can't do this stuff - you've got to just press on.
"Other than the home work piece, I wouldn't say there has been any new kind of demand. It's just the acceleration of the existing demand, but taking away some of the blockers that might have been there before."
However, Jonathan Lassman, director of Nutanix partner Epaton, wholeheartedly disagrees with Scarfe, arguing that the current crisis is proving public cloud's use in the short-term, but that long-term on-prem and hybrid cloud are the way forward for most organisations.
"I'm pro-on-prem for the right job, but I'm also pro-cloud for the right job and this [crisis] is perfect for cloud," he said.
"A customer is in a spot of bother, they can't get access to their datacentre and need to spin up a load of users quick - that's what cloud is for, to do stuff quickly, temporarily.
"If that temporary status becomes the new norm, there are cheaper ways to do it. In which case, I'm not pro-cloud, which is much more expensive in the long-term. But for a short-term gig, it makes absolute sense."
Lassman also raised his concerns about the potential capacity constraints by public cloud providers in a time of crisis and that companies can't be guaranteed their business continuity will be a priority in such a circumstance.
"We have no vision of whether the cloud will be there when we need it because other things will take priority," he elaborated.
"We have to remember that the cloud is just somebody else's computer, so if you're having difficulty buying servers for your environment, then the cloud guys are going to have difficulty buying servers for their environment.
"There are too many questions unanswered from this situation right now. Is cloud a great idea? 100 per cent it's a great idea - in concept."
Hybrid cloud's cards marked?
Despite being on extreme sides of the argument, Scarfe and Lassman agreed that COVID-19 will not eradicate on-premise infrastructure or hybrid cloud, though they disagree on the extent of the demand for the model post-pandemic.
Alastair Edwards, chief analyst at Canalys, said that in the short-term cloud adoption will accelerate as customers recognise its ability to adapt to the situation and their needs with minimal disruption to their business and anticipates a "big adoption" of cloud infrastructure services in the next two to three quarters.
However, he doesn't think every company is going to jump all-in on a pure-cloud play, despite relying on it during the global crisis, and that the trend to a hybrid cloud model, incorporating on-prem assets, will continue because of its
"I think many organisations will be using this as an interim step and once we get through the worst of this, they will develop strategies which incorporate what they've invested to a certain extent in public cloud, but also deploy more of that on-premise environment to build that hybrid model," he explained.
"When we get through this one of the main reasons why companies will not choose to continue that acceleration is because of the increased costs of using public cloud and compliance issues. A lot of sectors - whether that be financial services, health care, etc - say that, from a compliance perspective, they cannot make that move to public cloud."
Edwards believes that companies will, in fact, review their cloud consumption during this time and use it to redefine their hybrid cloud strategies, with Canalys estimating that three-quarters of all enterprise workloads sit in an on-prem environment.
"It's still a big market, which needs to be maintained and which delivers key benefits for customers. But certain things will move more to public cloud more quickly than perhaps was anticipated," he stated.
As countries and companies around the world try to resume some normality in the wake of the lethal disease, they must now face another foe in the form of an imminent global recession.
New Signature's Scarfe believes that companies who have had to do a hasty cloud migration as a result of lockdown now see the value of its proposition and the competitive advantage it can bring in the event of a downturn.
"A lot of organisations are being forced to do things that they perhaps wouldn't have been comfortable doing before, and they then witness the fact that those things are less scary than they thought they were and far more reliable," he said.
"If we do go into some kind of economic downturn, that will force organisations to start to radically rethink what their value proposition in the market is, and force them to think about how they can compete and differentiate from other organisations.
"We think the best competitive advantage an organisation can have is to become a digital business and the only viable place to build a digital business is in the public cloud."
Conversely, Lassman believes that cost savings will be to the forefront of many customers' minds in the event of a recession, and will be looking at a hybrid cloud environment.
"The majority of businesses will be looking at how to save money and a really quick win is to go to a hybrid cloud model and bring on-prem as much as they can," he said. "If there's a cheaper way of doing it, I don't understand why you wouldn't go down that route."
Canalys' Edwards believes that the public cloud providers have proven themselves and the value of the cloud during the COVID-19 crisis and praised them for adapting to the situation so quickly.
"If cloud providers didn't exist, there's no way organisations across the globe could have executed this shift as quickly as they did. I think there's probably a far greater reliance or recognition of the value that cloud providers can bring and that's where they will win," he stated.
However, the battle between public cloud and hybrid looks set to resume once normality returns to the channel, with the pandemic a blip in the ongoing saga of which model will win out, as digital transformation projects resume and migrations continue.
The standout winner in this crisis has been the channel, according to Edwards, as partners proved themselves indispensable to customers throughout.
"The channel will be in a much stronger position because organisations across the globe have been absolutely reliant on independent partners," he said.
"The channel has helped execute much of this as vendors have not been able to do this on their own. I think there will be a higher degree of loyalty and commitment and stronger relationships between partners and their customers."
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