Wind the clock back to the early days of cloud computing and it wasn’t hard to find predictions that public clouds were the singular future of computing. Sure, some of the people saying this had a vested interest in their prediction coming to pass. But others just looked at the scale and economics of public clouds, duly noted the analogies to the electric grid and centralized power generation, and figured that running your own computing infrastructure must be on its way out sooner rather than later.
Fast-forward a decade or so and what’s happened? The broad outlines of the developing hybrid cloud story have been taking shape for a while now. All public or all private strategies are rare, especially among large organizations. But taking hybrid cloud as a given, it’s important to better understand how public cloud is being adopted in a world where private clouds usually have a role to play as well.
To this end, last year Red Hat commissioned Forrester Consulting to evaluate cloud migration strategies by conducting an online survey with 272 respondents working at enterprises that had already migrated, or were in the process of migrating, some existing workloads to the public cloud. So these results represent on-the-ground experience rather than theoretical plans. Forrester summarized this research in two papers: “Cloud Migration Is Actively Embraced, But Not For Everything” and “Hybrid Cloud: An Obvious Reality Or A Conservative Strategy?”
The research looks at a number of different aspects of workload migration, but considering spending patterns is one particularly useful lens. “Follow the money,” as the saying goes.
At first glance, it looked as if these organizations were migrating a lot of applications to public clouds; they’d moved or were planning to move 100 applications on average.
But that translates to only 21% of their workloads today, a number they project to go up to only 25% over the next few years. That’s significant public cloud use but it’s not a wholesale shift.
Forrester also found that private cloud plans are being developed alongside public cloud migrations. They note that: “Even those who are actively migrating their existing workloads to the public cloud currently still report investment in private cloud as a central part of their digital transformation strategies” with the majority citing digital transformation as their primary use case.
As a result, even among these companies (who, remember, were chosen on the basis that they were migrating at least some applications to public clouds) private cloud spending is on the rise. A whopping 87% plan to increase or maintain their level of investment in private cloud over the next four years. This nearly equals the number planning to increase their public cloud spend (88%). It’s also consistent with previous Forrester research, which found that: “Even among enterprises not specifically focused on cloud, or migration, investment interest in private cloud is still high. Sixty percent of North American and European enterprise-hardware decision makers report that building a private cloud is a critical or high priority for their business.”*
Interviews that Forrester conducted as part of this current survey tell the same story in words. For example, the head of infrastructure, architecture, and design at an American financial services firms said: “I think we’ll always be in a hybrid mode. We’ll always need internally hosted apps; I don’t think we’ll ever get everything into public cloud. We might move those apps to a managed service somewhere, but they can’t move to public.”
These results might be surprising to some who are accustomed to hearing about the inevitability of a near-universal shift to public clouds. Indeed, Forrester notes that, as shown by this and other research, “The reality for cloud migrators differs greatly from the current migration dialog.”
Am I surprised? Nope. It’s what I hear from customers all the time. They’re essentially all hybrid in some form. They’re adopting many of the principles often inspired by public clouds: self-service, automation, speed, flexibility. But they’re often doing so on premise while using public clouds where appropriate. One size doesn’t fit all; the history of IT has shown time and time again that if you bet against any single approach conquering all, you’ll likely win.
As Forrester puts it: “The preponderance of both public and private cloud use indicates that no single cloud deployment will be the future for enterprises. Rather, the future of cloud is likely to be a hybrid story.”
*Private Cloud In 2020: Defining The Future Of The Enterprise Data Center,” Forrester Research, Inc., August 24, 2017.