Two years ago, Wired ran an arresting headline: “The Cloud Computing Era Could Be Nearing Its End.” In the piece, the author suggested that cloud’s much-discussed lag problem, among other things, could prove to be its undoing, and that perhaps an edge computing network was in order.
But that view of the future now seems unlikely. LinkedIn has said the number-one hard skill companies are looking for in 2019 is a facility with cloud computing. And speaking to CNBC last November, Daniel Zhang, CEO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, said not only that cloud computing will become Alibaba’s “main business” but that “every business will rely on the cloud in the future.”
Almost everything in the digital world is already connected to the cloud in some way, with the exception being data stored locally for security reasons. LogicMonitor’s ‘Cloud Vision 2020: The Future of the Cloud’ study concluded that 83 percent of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud in a year’s time, while a 2018 SmartCompany report found that cloud technology came second only to smartphones in terms of impact on business efficiency over the past five years. And my own company — a SaaS service for dry cleaners and laundromats — is an example of how cloud services are already reaching far beyond tech companies and enterprises.
In these circumstances, it isn’t too hard to imagine that in the future — maybe as soon as five or 10 years from now — almost all businesses will operate primarily from the cloud, which has implications for cost-efficiency, productivity and flexibility.
But the cloud we might see in five to 10 years will look quite a bit different from what we have now. Expect to see significant changes on at least four fronts:
1. User experience
To begin with, user experience will be moved up the priority list. One of the main reasons Apple came to dominate the smartphone market is because of the user experience that its products promised. Steve Jobs was famously obsessive about UX, saying that “[Design] is not just what it looks like and feels like. The design is how it works.” Today, UX continues to be a key differentiator across all sectors, and in the cloud space there’s no reason to believe it will be any different. Those organisations and products that will succeed in a more crowded market will be those that can combine functionality with a great user experience. We’re likely to see more attention paid to design and to creating a “cleaner,” simpler design that will appeal to the average consumer used to basic smartphone apps and to the less digitally literate — in other words, those intimidated by the apparent complexity of cloud technology. In UX, we’ve already seen IBM steal the march on cloud service providers who merely focus on problem-solving through pure functionality. IBM Cloud’s usability and interface was recognized at the 2019 Indigo Design Awards.
We’re also likely to see more widespread use of Desktop-as-a-Service, which describes the operation of a virtual desktop infrastructure by a third party. The personal data of employees of a business, for instance, could be copied to and from their virtual desktop each time they log on or off, creating a virtual working environment that runs quickly, secures information reliably, and largely organizes itself. Access to that data, meanwhile, will be independent of device, location, or network, which makes for painless remote-working and a vast reduction in the likelihood of human error. The Global DaaS Market Report for 2018 forecast that the market for DaaS would increase from $650 million in 2017 to $4.67 billion by 2022.
3. App-to-app integration
Everything may run on the cloud, but running multiple clouds at the same time can still pose challenges, such as compliance with data regulation. Slack — the fastest-growing Software-as-a-Service company on the planet — has already shown how integration can work, and its success is reflected in its trial-to-paid conversion rate, which stands at 30 percent. Slack integrates with other apps such as Trello, Giphy, and Simple Poll so users can access all of them from a single platform. This is something we’ll see increasingly in cloud computing as players large and small look to help businesses and individuals become more efficient and productive.
4. Cloud as default
As more and more of life happens in the cloud, the term “cloud” could disappear altogether (and companies like mine, with “cloud” in their name may need to rethink their branding). What we now call “cloud computing” will simply be “computing.” And maybe, by extension, “as-a-Service” will disappear, too, as SaaS replaces traditional software.
In tech, you can never be certain of the direction of travel. Things change quickly and in unexpected ways, and some of the changes we’ve seen over even the past 10 years would have been inconceivable just a few years before. But we can say with some certainty that cloud computing is not only here to stay but set to make its presence known in ever-more impactful ways as we move forward. And that’s an interesting prospect not only for those in the industry, but for everyone.
John Buni is co-founder and CEO of CleanCloud, a SaaS business with 5,000 users in 69 countries. He appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2010, seeking investment in his first business, 3D bespoke tailoring brand Tailor Made London.