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December 29, 2020

2021: Cloudy with a (Very Good) Chance of AI and Analytics


As we entered 2020, the cloud was already on its way to becoming a defacto standard for running advanced analytics and AI for many organizations. Then COVID-19 happened, and the great cloud migration started to look like a stampede.

That momentum will continue into 2021, according to our panel of experts. However, the way that organizations use public cloud platforms – namely Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, but also Alibaba Cloud, Oracle Cloud, and IBM Cloud – may surprise you.

As large-scale use cases like AI and machine learning went mainstream across industries and segment, cloud computing passed the inflection point and is now a technical certainty, says Databricks CEO Ali Ghodsi.

“With such rapid adoption of cloud, more and more organizations are now operating in more than one cloud platform,” Ghodsi says. “The reasons are varied across regulatory requirements, diversification of risk, increased negotiating power, avoiding lock-in, and M&A activity, but the outcome is the same. More organizations are looking for solutions that provide a consistent experience across cloud platforms. This will have a big upside for enterprises that don’t want to reinvent the wheel with a second or third provider, as well as for software companies that are looking for ways to inoculate their businesses from the providers’ native offerings.”

Hybrid and multi-cloud will be more popular deployment scenarios in 2021, experts predict (a-image/Shutterstock)

Once considered the “layover” on the way to the cloud, hybrid is now the destination, according to Keith White, the general manager of GreenLake Cloud Services at HPE.

“According to IDC, 70% of customers’ apps and data remain outside the public cloud,” White says. “With that in mind, in 2021, we’ll see even more customers embrace a hybrid approach. Due to data latency, application entanglement and security and compliance reasons we see more and more organizations across industries wanting to keep their data on-premises. At the same time, partially due to pandemic economics, data egress charges and vendor lock-in with public cloud providers, the reality is CIOs and IT orgs are embracing hybrid as the outcome and not a means to an end.”

2020 was hectic in many ways, as COVID-19 uprooted established trends in many respects, including the shift to cloud computing. But according to StreamSets CEO Girish Pancha, companies will need to be pragmatic in how they approach hybrid multi-cloud data strategies in 2021.

“When hit with the pandemic, some industries experienced a spike in demand and had to race to meet that demand,” Pancha writes. “For everyone else, ‘flat was the new up’ in 2020. It was a win just to be sideways. 2020 marked the very early stages of the shift to the cloud, and to cloud data platforms. Looking forward to 2021, up will be the new flat, and any business that survived 2020 will need to use all their data, faster than ever to get back on the offense. 2021 will see an increase in hybrid multi-cloud data integration investments, as companies double- or triple-down on new data platforms, but ensuring that no data gets left behind.”

The way Collibra co-founder and CTO Stijn Christiaens sees it, hybrid setups will serve a purpose for those who are unable to move to the cloud.

“We will continue to see hybrid cloud and multi-cloud,” Christiaens says. “Why will we continue to see hybrids? Don’t look at what is changing; look at what is not changing. And what is not changing is that companies cannot just move everything into the cloud in a heartbeat. This will take them years, even if they’re fully behind the initiative. For that reason, you will continue to see hybrids. We are headed into a future where on-premise is seen as legacy.

Snowflake’s successful IPO in 2020 demonstrated ample demand for cloud data warehouses

AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud do not play very well together at this point. But that will start to change in 2021 as the cloud providers loosen the reins on multi-cloud interoperability, predicts Rick Farnell, President and CEO of Protegrity.

“Today, we’re seeing the start of a modern-day version of what occurred in technology in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” Farnell says. “If you remember the explosion of software during the Internet era, then you might remember software companies battling with questions around how to make their software available. For example, should this software provide support for only one particular operating system, or should it be more widely available? Now, we’re seeing similar questions when it comes to SaaS providers (eg. Snowflake) across the major cloud providers. In the coming year, we can expect to see more competition between cloud providers, offering interoperability services to command an exceptional user experience. This multi-cloud interoperability will mark the providers’ commitment to innovation – and their desire to out-innovate other cloud providers to create value for the SaaS ecosystem.”

Cloud data lakes are good places to park large amounts of unstructured data. But according to Raj Verma, the CEO of SingleStore (formerly MemSQL), organizations will find the cloud suitable for other types of data.

“The next big tsunami of data that’s going to the cloud is going to be operational data–created via the marriage of historical data with real-time data to provide real-time insights–or what we call the data of now,” Verma says. “This data deluge will be many times bigger than what we’ve seen in the past. However, the unique economics will not allow for a fourth or a fifth cloud provider. That means that $40-50 billion of workloads now on incumbent technologies like IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud, and SAP Cloud will migrate to the top three cloud providers.”

For many businesses in 2020, the increased use of cloud providers and online services has been essential to keeping the lights on in virtual environments, which has prompted companies to overcome the inertia and red tape surrounding SaaS, PaaS and other ‘aaS’ products, says Dan Sommer, senior director and Global Market Intelligence Lead at Qlik.

A tsunami of data–a “datanami,” if you will–is in store for clouds in 2021, experts predict (lassedesignen/Shutterstock)

“Organizations that once claimed they would never look to SaaS have suddenly embraced it. These changes have had some beneficial side effects, like adding scale and elasticity,” he says. “While bigger projects have been put on hold in the short term, the immediate switch to SaaS will be a trigger for a greater migration of databases and applications. Technologies that can access, move and harmonize data from multiple places will follow.”

There is cloud storage, and there is on-prem storage. In 2021, these separate entities will begin the process of becoming one, predicts Jon Toor, CMO for Cloudian.

“All public cloud providers now offer on-prem solutions, which positions public cloud and on-prem as environments that should work in combination, rather than being viewed as an either/or decision,” Toor says. “In addition, enterprise storage providers have upped their cloud game, building new solutions that work with the public cloud rather than competing with it. As both sides move towards the center, the inevitable result is that organizations will come to view public cloud and on-prem as two sides of the enterprise storage coin.”

Today, we care deeply about where data sits, and whether it’s “in the cloud” or in an on-prem data center. But in 2021, where data sits will start to matter less, predicts Yiannis Antoniou, an analyst with Gigaom.

“Hybrid approaches seamlessly bridging on-premises and cloud capabilities around data will become stronger and more widespread,” Antoniou says. “Similarly, to the multi-cloud future, organizations will want to combine their on-premises data needs with the native cloud capabilities in a transparent way. The location of data will become practically invisible and there will be one-click movement and combination of data from multiple on-premises data centers and public cloud providers. This will allow for better compliance to data protection regulations in a localized manner; hedging of organizational bets around elastic infrastructure; and cost-efficiencies and arbitrage for organizations taking advantage of temporary pricing fluctuations between public cloud providers.”

Interoperability in the cloud will become more important, according to Poojan Kumar, CEO and co-founder of Clumio.


“AWS has been the big leader in the cloud realm, and 2021 will see Azure and GCP play ‘catch up’ with additional partnerships,” Kumar predicts. “In fact, both will make partnering core to their competitive strategy. We saw Google announce a contract with Box last summer – and we’ll see more deals like this next year as partnerships become an integral part of their cloud innovation strategy. When Azure and GCP become more partner-friendly, this will force AWS to seek out more partnerships to remain competitive in 2021. As VCs put more of their focus on cloud-only companies, we’ll see all cloud vendors work to strike a balance between building and partnering – specifically when it comes to their API and platform strategy.”

We are experiencing great shifts in how we consume and use software, and those shifts will continue to build in 2021, says Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey.

“Operating systems of the public clouds and private clouds will swap places in 2021, as the enterprise strives to balance the laws of physics (data gravity), laws of the land (data sovereignty), and laws of economics (elasticity),” Pandey says. “GDPR and CCPA are the tip of the privacy iceberg in this world increasingly challenged by a wave of anti-globalization. That is why the best cloud software will be available anywhere and everywhere, with a frictionless control independent of location, bringing an end to proprietary engineered hardware. In the coming year, public and private monikers will converge into a singular experience around billing, payment, identity, logistics, and security. The consumerization of the enterprise will only be complete when build (private clouds) vs. buy (public clouds) becomes a non-issue for the enterprise architect. Clouds will converge, post-pandemic, with 2021 being the year of desktop-as-a-service (DaaS), disaster recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS), and database-as-a-service (DBaaS).”

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