The cloud is software for developers, not hardware for operations

The cloud used to be hardware in somebody else’s data center. This hardware was remotely managed, could scale up or down on demand, and had major benefits based on managing the physical technology infrastructure (power, internet, HVAC, physical security, processors, hard drives and tape drives, etc). This hardware version of the cloud empowered operators — sys admin, DBAs, etc. The smallest atomic unit was typically a virtual machine (VM). It also enabled shifting IT budgets from capital expenditures to operating expenses. This was not a distant past; it was 5–10 years ago.

Fast forward to today, 2018, and the cloud is not about hardware in somebody else’s data center, it’s about software enabled infrastructure services. Yes, those software-based infrastructure services, or cloud services or cloud managed services, are run on hardware in somebody else’s data center. But those managed services are delivered in software layers abstracted from the underlying hardware. The smallest atomic unit is not a VM a managed service running across a fleet of hosts; examples are things like database as a service (DBaaS), container orchestration services, API-services, etc. In this abstracted model delivered as software, the current and future version of the cloud empowers software developers and not operators.

Organizations leveraging today’s software-delivered cloud offload not just physical technology infrastructure, but operations for that hardware. It’s the reason why the leading cloud service providers (CSPs) — Amazon, Microsoft, and Google—are hiring armies of operators.

This software, or cloud services model, breaks down barriers to deploying and scaling new technology. At the same time, it opens up a world of new vulnerabilities as software developers not only develop new technology but also, via cloud services, configure the security of their own environments.

In 2018, the hardware cloud utility is in place. This hardware is foundational but is not the true transformative power of the cloud. The true power of the cloud is managed services built to empower software developers. It is safe to say we are now living in a post cloud world. Now is the race to create more software services, or managed services, for developers to enable specific technology use cases.

CSPs are racing to launch more software primitives in which customers piece together, build and deploy their technology. This image, taken from an AWS session at the 2018 AWS re:Invent conference, demonstrates the rapid pace of available services on their cloud. Azure and GCP service growth has similar trajectories. It’s insanely fast.

Where is that service growth happening? Today software delivered services, or managed services, are branching into categories like databases, containers / orchestration, and even machine learning. Each CSP has an eye on being the central utility for the inevitable future age of artificial intelligence.

As CSPs launch more and more managed services, lines become blurred between IaaS and PaaS, and to a lesser extent SaaS. CSPs are no longer synonymous with IaaS, as the unbundling of physical hardware into software delivered services is shifting more control to IaaS. And, here’s the result: PaaS is now often used to mean different things, from traditional PaaS like Heroku to simple managed databases. The mixing of terms is creating more market confusion which needs to be managed for understanding and ensuring compliance on the cloud.

Despite the confusion and growing pains in the post-cloud world, managed services are here to stay. The great cloud hardware to software unbundling will continue at breakneck speed for the foreseeable future, powering armies of software developers to invent the future.