While the history of cloud computing is traced back in 1950s or 60s and have many disputed/diverse claims, the fact is in last 10 years, if there is one technology platform that has outperformed every other, it’s cloud, undoubtedly, and undisputedly. From nothing to about US$ 400+ billion dollars are spent every year on cloud usage, that’s the kind of end-user spending. 

When Amazon was experimenting with its cloud business, it was quite shy in reporting its revenue purely from cloud services. Finally, the day came when in 2006, Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched as a full-fledged cloud computing platform to provide online services. It all began with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and Amazon S3, which provided large virtual computing capacity. Today, the same AWS boasts of over 250 odd services delivered by it. From a meagre US$3 billion + in 2013, the company today boasts of US$ 60 billion +. Oh damn! I didn’t mean to write this blog to quote revenues of public, private or  hybrid cloud service providers. If, for a moment, we look at just at the cloud platform service providers, the number is believed to be well over 350 with 550 odd platforms services cross 22 categories. 

In the last two years, despite very strong macroeconomic headwinds, public cloud services experienced tremendous growth and the reason was pretty clear and obvious. The global pandemic and its prolonged impact caused panic. In a jiffy, majority of organisations had to relook at their working models and had to go from physical to pure virtual. To support that elasticity, capacity expansion, scalability and flexibility, cloud was perhaps the only viable alternative. Be it the infrastructure, software as a service or platform as a service, cloud ruled all the way and continues its momentum. 

So much so that besides having a CIO, many organisations employed a dedicated C-suite, high-profile Chief Cloud Officer (CCO) to harness the full power, productivity and efficiency from their cloud solutions and services.  CCO is tipped as the ultimate custodian of cloud-resources in an organisation. Red Hat CEO Paul Cormier, at the company’s last year’s annual user conference, proclaimed, “Every CIO must now think of themselves as a cloud operator.”. Almost a decade ago Marc Andreessen an American entrepreneur, investor, and software engineer and also the co-founder of Netscape wrote an essay, “Software is eating the world” in Wall Street Journal. It is a worthwhile read even today. Today, most CIOs will vouch for this statement. Software is the foundation of any company’s business if it calls itself a digital company. In the contactless world, it was these SaaS-based applications that ran the businesses with less friction and great deal of ease. As of April 2021, 33% of C-suite technology leaders surveyed indicated that their organisations are running more than 50% of workloads in the cloud. Over the next 12 to 18 months, the number of orgs running workloads in the cloud is expected to increase. By then, over 56% are expected to run more than 50% of their workloads in the cloud at their organisation. “Every CIO and their organisations need to understand that they control their own destiny in the cloud. We know how to build with the cloud in place, but now we need to know how to run our operations at scale,” said Paul Cormier, CEO of Red Hat.  

Is it, therefore, safe to assume that CIOs have to move towards becoming Cloud Orchestrators or Cloud Operators? Well, the house is divided on this. In my view, while cloud computing dominates the technology infrastructure stack of any organisation today, calling CIO as a mere cloud operator is like going bit too far. The emergence of CIO as a key strategist in an organisation certainly demands from him much more than just overseeing how cloud functions. The transformational CIO is the one who collaborates with other C-suite colleagues on a host of digital strategies. S/he is surely one of the key leaders to lead the change, and of course with the help of emerging tech, drive agile practices that brings the company closer to its customers and deliver an experience par excellence. Here’s where there is a clear divide between companies that are doing exceeding well in their digital transformation journey and those that have either not started yet or have a very rudimentary approach. 

An important aspect of cloud, which has emerged over the course of its evolution, is the cost management. That’s where the CIO or a similar leader has to play a crucial role. If suppose, on an average, a company allocates about 1/3rd of its total IT budget to cloud computing (which is quite likely), one of the biggest obstacles in using cloud is cost escalations over a period. The cost escalation could be due to a multitude of reasons: 

  • Lack of proper cloud selection
  • Poorly configured cloud workloads
  • Lack of appropriate skills (may be)
  • Locked-in with one cloud service provider
  • Wrong data migration strategy and so on… 

Wayne Sadin, Lead Advisor, Via Group Partners, suggests a great approach for CIOs. “It is a CIO’s responsibility to convince the CEO, and even the board to share the responsibility for proper usage of technology, which also includes cloud. Cloud, done rightly, can power both digital experience and digital optimisation. Aligning with a provider who understands your business and one who can help you create the right infrastructure, is important. Business needs drive technology and not vice versa,” says Sadin. That’s where CIO’s role, as a Cloud Orchestrator or Operator, becomes crucial. 

Similarly, Sarbjeet Johal, an acclaimed cloud consultant and Founding Investor, The Batchery, says that investment in cloud is strategic as it provides agility. “If your competitor is driving at a speed of 100 miles an hour and you’re at 80, there’s no way you can win that race. The agility gives the advantage of launching new businesses and business models. In a short term it may be an expensive proposition, but in the long term, the TCO is lower,” says Johal. 

CIOs moving from traditional data centres to cloud-first, or cloud-native stages have to beware. “Many CIOs will now have to manage their cloud estates in a more portfolio-like manner, while driving unnecessary dependencies and vendor commitments out of the mix whenever possible. This will result in a more resilient and vibrant cloud ecosystem for most organisations. It will also increase competition among cloud vendors while increasing choice for customers. Or at least that is the direction that cloud in the enterprise should be headed,” says Dion Hischcliffe, VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research.       

So, in the end, I’d only say that while the CIO’s key work in not just being a Cloud Orchestrator or an Operator of Cloud, however, there surely is a great task cut out for them in managing the sprawl of cloud, its costs, security of the data in the cloud, managing the cloud service providers in a multi-cloud environment etc.  

By Rahul Mani

With nearly 22 years of experience in Tech B2B media, Rahul comes with a distinct approach for nurturing the CIO & CISO communities. He has worked with CIOs & CISOs from across sections of industries and has an in-depth understanding of their unique information needs. Rahul is one of the rare media entrepreneurs with a distinct ability to balance between totally diverse functions of editorial and business. Rahul has held leadership roles at IDG India and 9.9 Media before starting Grey Head Media.

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