During 2020 and 2021, cloud computing exploded as work went virtual and businesses adapted to the global pandemic by focusing on the delivery of digital services. In 2022, we will undoubtedly see a continuation of rapid adoption and growth.
It’s likely that we will see the focus shift away from the deployment of cloud tools and platforms in order to improve a specific function (such as shifting to Zoom meetings) towards more holistic strategies centred on enterprise-wide cloud migration.
Augmenting the abilities of remote and hybridized workforces will remain a key trend, but we will see ongoing innovation in cloud and data centre infrastructure too. Here’s my overview of some of the key ways this will materialize in 2022.
Cloud continues to grow and evolve with exciting new use cases
According to predictions from Gartner, global spending on cloud services is expected to reach over $482 billion in 2022, up from $313 billion in 2020. Cloud computing infrastructure is the backbone of the delivery pipeline of just about every digital service, from social media and streaming entertainment to connected cars and autonomous internet of things (IoT) infrastructure. New or upcoming ultra-fast networks like 5G and Wi-Fi 6E don't just mean more data will be streamed from the cloud; they mean new types of data can be streamed. We see this with the explosion in the availability of cloud gaming platforms such as Google's Stadia and Amazon Luna, which will see increasing levels of investment over the course of 2022. We will also see the arrival of cloud virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) which should lead to smaller and cheaper headsets. Cloud technology essentially makes every other technology lighter, faster, and more accessible from a customer point of view, and this fact will be a key driver in the migration of more services to cloud platforms.
Sustainability is increasingly a driver of cloud innovation
Every responsible business understands that it has a part to play in tackling the challenges of climate change. In tech, this often centres on reducing the energy usage associated with increasingly powerful computing engines, larger digital storage requirements, and the energy costs of providing 24/7 “always-on” infrastructure services to customers. Most of the tech giants will spend 2022 implementing measures and innovations aimed at helping them achieve their net-zero carbon aspirations. Amazon, the world's biggest cloud company, is also the world's biggest buyer of renewable energy and also has 206 of its own sustainable energy projects running worldwide, generating around 8.5GW per year. Now it is also focusing on reducing the “downstream” energy usage created by its products like Echo and Fire TV once they are in customers’ homes. Of course, it's great that sustainability is high on the agenda these days, but for businesses like Amazon, the reasons go beyond the purely altruistic – it’s forecast that the effects of climate change with cost companies up to $1.6 trillion per year by 2025.
Hybrid cloud blurs the distinction between public and private clouds
Since businesses started migrating to the cloud, they have traditionally had two options. They can use easily accessible, pay-as-you-go public cloud solutions or more customized and flexible private cloud solutions. Private cloud (where an organization effectively has its own cloud, and data never has to leave its premises) is also sometimes needed for regulatory and security reasons. Today, companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM (the biggest cloud providers) are expanding their rollout of "hybrid" models that adopt a best-of-both-worlds approach. Data that needs to be quickly and frequently accessed, perhaps by customers, can be kept on public AWS or Azure servers and accessed through tools, applications, and dashboards. More sensitive or mission-critical data can be kept on private servers where access can be monitored, and it can be processed using proprietary applications. Another driving force behind the growth in popularity of hybrid cloud is that many companies are growing past their first forays into cloud computing, and having established the benefits, are looking for additional use cases. This has resulted in many companies finding themselves in a “multi-cloud” environment, using a number of services sometimes from several different suppliers. A hybrid cloud approach can reduce the complexity of this thanks to the emphasis put on streamlining the user experience and keeping the backend stack invisible when it doesn’t need to be seen.
AI in cloud computing
Cloud computing plays a key role in the deliverance of artificial intelligence (AI) services – described by Google CEO Sundar Pichai as “more profound than electricity or fire” in terms of the effect it will have on society. Machine learning platforms require huge processing power and data bandwidth for training and processing data, and cloud datacentres make this available to anyone. Most of the “everyday” AI we see all around us – from Google Search to Instagram filters – lives in the cloud, and technology that routes traffic from data centres to our devices and manages storage infrastructure is built on machine learning. The development and evolution of cloud and AI are inextricably interwoven, and this will only become more true during 2022 and beyond. Strong trends in AI will be “creative” algorithms – generative machine learning that can create anything from art to synthetic data to train more AIs – as well as language modelling – increasing the accuracy with machines can understand human languages. Cloud computing will certainly play a key role in delivering these services to users as well as building the infrastructure to deliver them.
The Rise of serverless
Serverless cloud is a relatively new concept that’s gaining traction in the market from providers including Amazon (AWS Lambda), Microsoft (Azure Functions), and IBM Cloud Functions. Sometimes referred to as "functions-as-a-service," it means organizations aren't tied into leasing servers or paying for fixed amounts of storage or bandwidth. It promises a truly pay-as-you-go service where the infrastructure scales invisibly as an application requires it. Of course, it isn’t really serverless – the servers are still there – but it adds another layer of abstraction between the user and the platform, meaning the user doesn’t have to get involved with configurations and technicalities. Serverless within cloud computing will have a big part to play in the broader trend across cloud and the entire tech landscape of creating new user experiences that make innovation more accessible.