IT Priorities 2020: Covid-19 accelerates cloud investments by UK IT leaders

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The extent to which Covid-19 is accelerating the cloud migration plans of enterprises is laid bare in new research into how the pandemic is changing the tech spending priorities of IT leaders across the UK.

In the latest edition of the global Computer Weekly/TechTarget IT Priorities Survey, more than 120 UK IT leaders shared details of how the pandemic has caused them to change and accelerate the course of their technology investment plans.

From the UK sample of the data, 33% of respondents said their immediate spending priority is to invest in technologies to aid the migration of their enterprise workloads to the cloud in the interests of achieving business agility gains.

This was the second-most common immediate investment priority stated by respondents, with investing in technologies to enable remote working coming out top with 53% of the vote.

At the same time, 36% of respondents who are in the midst of moving to the cloud said the pandemic had made it easier for them to justify investments in this area, while just 6% said the same about their plans to invest in on-premise servers and colocation datacentre resources.

However, when asked which areas the pandemic made it more difficult for IT leaders to justify spending money on, 22% also name-checked on-premise servers and colocation.

These findings echo anecdotal accounts shared by CIOs and senior IT leaders about how the pandemic has served to accelerate their cloud-led digital transformation plans so their businesses are better positioned and prepared for the changes in consumer behaviour and working patterns Covid-19 has caused.

Mass remote working

In response to governments across the globe issuing “stay at home” orders for their citizens to help control the spread of the virus, IT leaders have found themselves having to scramble to ensure they have the technology resources needed to enable mass remote working for their workforces.

This has led to a surge in demand for cloud-based video conferencing tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and online business productivity tools to ensure employees can continue to communicate and collaborate as they did in the office while working from home.

Many businesses have had to adapt their customer offerings to accommodate social distancing and to keep running, despite the limitations imposed on them by lockdown as well.

Evidence of this can be seen by the way bricks and mortar retailers have had to rapidly mobilise to flesh out their online shopping propositions, healthcare providers have had to accelerate their adoption of telemedicine platforms, and bars and restaurants have moved to embrace contactless payments and ordering procedures.

And being able to pivot their businesses in this way, and at pace and scale, is a challenge IT leaders are rising to by tapping into the flexibility offered by cloud infrastructure resources, as evidenced by the recent run of financial results from public cloud giants Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

All three firms’ cloud arms have posted double-digit, year-on-year revenue growth in recent quarters, as the pandemic has continued to play out. Amazon Web Services (AWS) CFO Brian Olsavsky used the publication of the firm’s third quarter results to share his observations about the impact Covid-19 is having on cloud adoption trends.

Use of cloud

While some firms have markedly accelerated their use of cloud during the pandemic for business agility purposes, said Olsavsky, others (operating in industries that are fairing less well during the pandemic) are looking to strip costs out of their business. And increasing their use of cloud, while winding down their use of on-premise datacentres, is one way of achieving that.

“There are anomalies in different industries going on this year – travel and hospitality are down,” he said. “A lot of companies are in holding pattern in middle and some are doing really well, such as video conferencing, gaming, remote learning and things tied to entertainment.

“The majority of the companies though are looking for ways to cut down on expenses. Going to cloud is a good way to cut down on expenses long-term. [Customers are] trying to cut down on their short-term costs in the cloud, and tune their workloads. We’re helping them do that.

“We think that is good for the customer and, therefore, it will be good for us long-term. The year-on-year growth in absolute dollars this quarter were the largest we’ve ever seen and we feel good about the state of the business, as well as the state of our salesforce and their ability to drive value during this period,” he added.

These observations do seem to chime with the TechTarget research, which also saw IT leaders quizzed on areas of investment that they are prioritising within their datacentre estates during the pandemic as well.

High on their list of potential tech purchases are datacentre management, monitoring and automation tools, which is – perhaps – unsurprising given the social distancing challenges that datacentre operators have had to contend with during the pandemic.

Guidance put out by datacentre resiliency think-tank The Uptime Institute at the start of the pandemic saw operators advised to minimise the number of people onsite at any one time for social distancing purposes, and to hold-off on big, non-essential site projects.

Automation technologies can assist with this, as can remote datacentre infrastructure management and monitoring tools by enabling operators to keep their sites ticking along in a more hands-off way.

Indeed, in its most recent guidance about post-pandemic planning, The Uptime Institute predicts datacentre operators will look to continue to run their facilities in future with fewer on-site workers.

At the same time, it is also likely that operators will come under increased pressure from governments and policy makers across the globe to show their sites have the resiliency needed to withstand future pandemics too. Which, in turn, will create a deeper need for site monitoring and management tools.

“To reduce risk, almost all datacentres delayed maintenance, postponed major projects, and hoped to ride [the pandemic] through [during the first wave],” states the Uptime Institute Post-pandemic planning report.

“Where possible, staff worked from home and connected to the facility using a combination of simple productivity tools and, where available, remote access and monitoring systems. On-site activities were limited to the strictly necessary.

“Many of these changes are now not only well-embedded for the duration of this pandemic but are also likely to be permanent,” the report adds.

Second wave

With the UK in the midst of a second wave of Covid-19 infections, it remains to be seen if there will be return to major datacentre upgrades being postponed this time around or if IT leaders will continue to prioritise cloud over on-premise technology investments going forward.

An earlier version of the Computer Weekly/TechTarget research, conducted prior to the pandemic taking hold and published in early March 2020, revealed that IT leaders were planning to devote more of the IT budgets to cloud migration projects this year.

And so, in that regard, the pandemic has made little difference to their overall digital transformation plans for the year ahead, except serving to accelerate their pace and scale.

Looking ahead, the Uptime Institute is of the view that – long term – the pandemic will not result in a “big shift” to the public cloud but will likely accelerate “pre-existing trends” whereby business de-prioritise investing in private datacentres in favour of using more cloud services.

“It would be simplistic to state that the pandemic will trigger a significantly accelerated decline in enterprise datacentres or increase in the migration of existing workloads [to the cloud],” the Uptime Institute report continues.

“Uptime Institute’s research shows the balance of workloads shifting gradually, over time, in a cautious fashion.”