Cloud computing is why we can cope with coronavirus
“Reach for the stars so if you fall, you land on a cloud.” This is the guidance offered by Kanye West in the 2007 song ‘Homecoming’. That may have been sound advice back then, but in 2020 the cloud itself — and specifically cloud computing — is a worthy goal for most businesses.
According to analyst firm Canalys, organisations spent $107 billion globally on cloud- based computing services in 2019, up 37% on the previous year. More recently, the silver linings of cloud computing have been clearly visible in the financial results for the first quarter of 2020. Revenue for Microsoft’s Intelligent Cloud division, which encompasses its cloud computing unit Azure, was up 27% from 2019, exceeding $12 billion. This is partly driven by the 75 million daily users on its video conferencing service Microsoft Teams.
And we can’t talk video conferencing without a mention of Zoom, which recently signed up Oracle to supplement its own data centres and pre-existing cloud partnerships with AWS and Microsoft Azure. It is cloud computing that is allowing Zoom to handle the incredible growth in its user base from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020.
Cloud computing powers our favourite digital services
In Robert Colvile’s FT Weekend article examining what is getting the UK through the COVID-19 crisis, he selects cloud computing as one of a few areas for special mention. Colvile asks readers to ponder how quickly government websites would crash if they didn’t have the cloud platforms and capabilities propping them up against a wave of enquiries from worried members of the public.
The same can be said for online entertainment; in lockdown we’ve turned to TV streaming services like never before. Amazon’s cloud technology provider Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the partner of choice for Netflix, Hulu and, unsurprisingly, Amazon Prime Video. Some prefer playing video games or watching esports to pass the time, but the story of the silent partner remains the same. Fornite – one of the most popular and talked about online games – is powered entirely by AWS.
What cloud computing can do for business
Cloud applications and tech critical for locked-in consumers in need of news and entertainment, but they also have benefits for businesses. Cloud computing is successfully delivering digital services during the COVID-19 crisis because of its speed and ability to scale. Businesses such as Zoom are able to secure enormous amounts of computing resource in minutes to accommodate new users; ranging from greater computing power and cloud storage for vast data sets to enhanced bandwidth that maintains internet connections, all distributed to the locations they are needed.
Businesses don’t usually have to handle the huge variations in customer demand that are characteristic of the COVID-19 crisis, but more modest levels of flexibility and agility are an important capability in any circumstances. Companies of all sizes need to move quickly to seize opportunities and having the right digital infrastructure in place is almost always fundamental to achieving this.
Stepping up to the cloud with expert advice
Getting the best from cloud-based tools, however, is not straightforward and highly dependent on the type of organisation as well as its specific IT needs. There are different types of computing; including private, public or hybrid cloud. There are different providers with different specialisms; AWS, Azure and Alibaba to name just a few. And there are different options available; software-as-a-service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS).
Lots of factors must be taken into account when choosing providers and services, which is often a more complex consideration for businesses migrating from a legacy IT system. There are plenty of consultancies well equipped to guide businesses through their respective digital transformation journeys. Larger advisers such as Infosys and Genpact span a broad range of business functions and technologies, while smaller cloud specialists are available for the niche needs.
Asking any of these consultancies whether cloud computing will play a role in digital transformation will elicit the same answer. Whether it’s a question of being able to scale up quickly in extreme situations such as COVID-19, or having the flexibility to address evolving customer expectations, cloud platforms and abilities are likely to form part of the solution. Despite Kanye’s advice, aiming for the cloud is likely to be more beneficial to most business in 2020 than reaching for the stars.