Eyes on the cloud: Six predictions for 2014

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As we head into 2014, people in the cloud virtualization industry begin to wonder exactly what to expect from the technology in the New Year.

We’ve seen some interesting and exciting developments emerge recently, including advancements in software-defined networking, explosions in cloud consumerization applications like Dropbox, and such instrumentation innovations as the “smart house”—an automated home that connects your thermostat, smoke detector, alarm system, appliances, and lighting to the Internet, giving you complete remote access and connectivity—the Internet of Things.

After nearly five years in the cloud industry, I’ve made many predictions for different technologies, but I’m particularly excited about what’s in store for the cloud. As we’ve seen in 2013, cloud computing has really changed the way business is done, bringing a whole new level of transparency and accountability to the customer experience.

Customers continue to demand convenience and immediacy, two characteristics the cloud is designed to deliver. In this sense, cloud technology is a game changer: it takes the traditional service delivery model and creates a transparency that has never before existed, forcing industries to transform and become transparent with the use of real-time information.

One distinguishing feature of cloud computing is the accessibility of the technology to all businesses; small to mid-size businesses benefit from the infrastructure and capabilities of cloud investments as much as enterprise businesses, albeit on a smaller scale.

In my opinion, the cloud will take six distinct directions in 2014, some of which have already begun this year and will continue through the next:

Demystifying the cloud. In the past few years, multiple publications have reported on the confusion around cloud technology and how this confusion can cause delays in adoption, especially for small to mid-size businesses. In 2013, cloud service providers and end users began to clarify the confusing and often inconsistent cloud lexicon, a trend that will continue to evolve in 2014 as more discrete solutions and concrete definitions around the cloud are solidified, allowing for more seamless integration of cloud technologies and, by design, increased benefits to organizations.

Increased mobility. Tablets and smart devices will continue to displace paper-based processes, especially in situations where employees are in the field, interacting with service events. One example of this shift already occurring can be seen in the healthcare industry; doctors today are equipped with tablets that allow physicians to send prescription refills to a patient’s pharmacy right from the exam room. Real-time data access, incident management and reporting will optimize business processes and increase customer service effectiveness across industries. More and more businesses are operating as “always on and available,” driving the need to align data accessibility and security with this expectation.

Hybrid cloud growth accelerates. Hybrid cloud adoption, being driven by expanded virtualization solutions such as IT as a Service (ITaaS), will continue to grow. More organizations are looking to leverage cloud infrastructure capabilities as a complementary strategy to their internal IT services.

Hybrid clouds allow organizations the security of a private cloud, but provide the ability to burst into the public cloud space as necessary. This capability is particularly useful to companies expecting an increase in product sales during a certain timeframe (e.g. holiday promotions, new product launches) as they are saved from having to spin up more servers to accommodate the increased activity. Instead, the cloud provider creates the necessary space and can scale that space back after the activity increase—creating both a cost and time savings for the business owner.

Application interoperability. Sometimes referred to as “cloud federation,” the push toward making virtualized applications operate concurrently across vendor-neutral cloud platforms will continue as workloads and apps are developed to talk to each other seamlessly across clouds.

Interoperability is particularly popular in the healthcare industry as more regulations mandate the use of electronic health records, electronic billing and related cloud-enabled solutions.

The Internet of Everything (IOE). As we saw in 2013, we are becoming a more connected civilization every day with more and more items—tablets, shoes, watches, automobiles, construction equipment, and more— manufacturers are integrating instrumentation and data capture into their products. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg; this machine-to-machine (M2M) trend will increase big data and business intelligence solutions that focus on increasing both customer- and market-specific analysis.

Increased instrumentation drives more proactive and predictive customer interactions aimed at developing customer service strategies and marketing promotions. Typically this information will be used to heighten the customer’s expectation of the product or service and to differentiate from competitors. The Internet of Everything trend has the potential to change the entire customer experience; in my opinion, this trend will continue strong next year and well beyond as the world adapts to big data in everyday life.

Cybercrime activity will continue to rise. With more virtualization and a larger number of entry points occurring through IOE trends, businesses and consumers become more vulnerable to cybercrime. For protection against burgeoning cybercrime, cloud providers will need to be certified in cyber security standards like NIST, PCI DSS compliance, STAR certifications, and other industry checkpoints. The security industry will flourish as organizations increase investment in protecting both their data and their customers with more advanced prevention software and training.

While additional trends are sure to arise, these six have seen significant investment and strong growth in the past year. As 2014 progresses, it will be interesting to see the direction these advancements take as cloud technology becomes more commonplace.