2020 Was the Year of the Cloud; What Does 2021 Have in Store?

Fifty percent of U.K. businesses reported significant changes to their day-to-day operations in 2020, while 44 percent said things had somewhat changed for them. 

As John C. Maxwell said: "Change is inevitable, growth is optional." That's a sentiment that will ring true for many. So, in the face of change, what did businesses turn to to survive and grow through adversity? The cloud.

The cloud or cloud computing refers to the use of remote servers to store and process data rather than a local server, for example. And the benefits? Well, there are many, but the biggest is an infrastructure that is easily configured for remote access, meaning it’s quick and easy to get your data from anywhere with an internet connection.

In 2020, remote became the norm, displayed through Zoom parties all the way to online doctor appointments. To be able to pivot and transition to the remote world, organizations needed to be able to quickly adapt their IT infrastructures so users could easily access all the data they needed away from the office. During this transition, many organizations found that their existing on-premises solutions struggled to support this change, and, although many setups could be configured for remote access, this created a wealth of other problems, not to mention the extra time and resources required to make their IT infrastructures suitable for the new normal.

And because of these changes, the global cloud market skyrocketed: In fact, Gartner forecasted that the global cloud market was set to grow by 6.3 percent in 2020, to a total of $257.9 billion. So, in a year when many businesses were cutting costs to survive, the cloud was one of the exceptions. We’re calling 2020The Year of The Cloud. But why was it so successful? Were there challenges? And what can we expect to come from the cloud in 2021? 

It's fair to say that cloud computing has been on an upward trajectory for several years. Gartner predicted a 17.5 percent growth in 2019, which you’d be right to point out is considerably higher than 2020. So, why are we suggesting that 2020 deserves this bold title?

Cloud computing became something of a trend in 2010, and today you'd be lucky to find an organization that doesn't know what it is (even if they're not using it!) However, throughout this decade of growth, the cloud was seen by some as a luxury. This changed in 2020, and, for many, the cloud became a necessity. Companies were forced from the comfort of their office (and local server) to working from home, where it became apparent that remote access to their data is essential. Configuring this with a local server can be complex, whereas the cloud is built for remote access. 

But it's not just the technical aspect that sent people to the cloud. There are security, health and safety, cost, and scalability factors to take into account too. First, a local server must be physically maintained to keep it working, meaning an IT technician must be in the office if a problem occurs. This adds extra costs (employing a professional with the knowledge to maintain a server) that can be covered by a cloud hosting partner. 

Second, when it comes to security, a large data center is generally far more secure than a local server, especially when it comes to the data being accessed by multiple people remotely. Clouid providers have the resources to invest in the best security available, which often just isn’t the case for local servers. 

And, finally, many organizations have experienced large growth or downsizing in 2020. With a locally hosted server, this could lead to paying for an IT infrastructure that is either too big or small (and therefore inefficient). Alternatively, with cloud computing, scaling is easy; you can simply ask your hosting provider to add or reduce resources, and they can do so almost immediately.

Therefore, 2020 became the year where a brand new, rather reluctant, audience became customers of the cloud. And despite the adversity faced, 72 percent of organizations say they have been able to work effectively remotely. Surely a large part of this is thanks to the cloud.

Had the events of 2020 not happened, the global cloud market would still have experienced growth, but the cultural shift in attitude toward it and understanding of its benefits would not have seen the same dramatic shift. And that is why 2020 is the Year of the Cloud.

Challenges for the cloud…

It would be naive to suggest that there were no challenges attached to cloud computing in 2020. There's a reason those new to the cloud have been reluctant to embrace it in the past, and, therefore, with a new audience come new reservations and hurdles. 

A typical cultural issue is the reluctance to relinquish control of IT infrastructure, with organizsations trusting their own teams to swiftly and properly resolve problems. This mindset will likely take a long time to change. So, while those with these trust issues might have been forced into the cloud in 2020, it doesn't necessarily mean they’re  all in just yet.

Additionally, the cloud is seen as an expensive option. Rather than one up-front payment, cloud computing requires an ongoing subscription cost. Organizations might have decided that these costs were necessary in 2020, but will they still feel the same when life returns to normal and possibly five days in the office?

2020 did unearth some new hurdles for cloud computing, and we expect to see the cloud continue to jump over these hurdles in 2021 and beyond. 

There’s more to come.

Toward the end of 2020, Gartner predicted an 18.4 percent growth in cloud computing in 2020, taking the total value to $304.9 billion. Additionally, they forecast that IT spending on the cloud will accelerate from 9.1 percent of the total global IT enterprise spending in 2020 to 14.2 percent in 2021.

While the cloud is set for hefty growth in the next few years, 2020 will always stand out as the year that changed perceptions and introduced a new audience. And we cannot overestimate the effect that reputation has on a solution such as cloud computing.

Chris Falshaw is head of U.K. support at TOPdesk.