It is a reasonable argument that the only reason millions of workers have been able to successfully work remotely over the past year is because cloud computing has reached a level of maturity that now makes working without the cloud unthinkable.'
It's also been made possible because of the number of products that have appeared over the past year that supply business computing tools through a subscription service. Among those tools, Microsoft 365 is arguably the most widely used.
Launched by the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant in 2017, Microsoft 365 brought together a line of subscription services, creating a superset of Office 365 with Windows 10 Enterprise licenses and other cloud-based security and device management products. In 2020, Microsoft rebranded Office 365 subscription plans oriented towards consumer and small business markets as Microsoft 365 to emphasize the inclusion of products and services beyond the core Office software family, including cloud-based productivity tools and artificial intelligence features.
While there's a clear product evolution, it is unclear who is using Microsoft 365, how it is being used and what that use shows about cloud computing in general within organizations.
The State of Microsoft 365 and the Cloud
Canada-based Sharegate has taken a dive into the subject and released its first benchmark report on Microsoft 365. Titled "State of Microsoft 365 Migration, Modernization, and Security in 2021," the report draws on data from users and Microsoft experts as well as industry surveys to highlight usage trends in 2020.
Of the many findings, one stands out. Cloud computing is no longer a choice, but rather the default position of any organization that wants to remain competitive. Other findings illustrate the use of SharePoint in the enterprise. The report showed that:
- The number of ShareGate desktop users performing on-premises SharePoint upgrades decreased by 19.7 percent in 2020.
- On-premises operations decreased by 60.63 percent.
- Operations to migrate from on-premises to the cloud increased by 37.2 percent.
- Cloud-based operations jumped by 50.1 percent.
- Cloud-to-cloud migrations increased by 67.9 percent and included the transfer of 144 percent more terabytes of data in 2020 versus 2019.
The COVID pandemic accelerated the trend. In the report, ShareGate head of product and Microsoft regional director Benjamin Niaulin writes: “What this tells me is that businesses wanted to migrate a lot more data in 2020 more quickly. So, while we see a lot more operations, it’s not necessarily because there were more customers. What we are seeing in 2020, because the number of operations boosted by 50%, cloud migration projects that were supposed to take one year were executed in a couple of months.”
That is not to say that on-premises implementations are going to disappear. There will always be certain kinds of businesses in certain sectors that will keep everything on premise. “It makes sense to see 16% of respondents — a relatively high number for 2021 — say that they’ll continue to upgrade their on-prem SharePoint version, and that they work in those types of industries,” Niaulin wrote.
So is cloud computing the default choice for organizations?
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The Cloud Expands
Microsoft's Cloud and SaaS businesses continue to expand as enterprises accelerate adoption of all things cloud, said Steve Hall, president of UK-based ISG EMEA. The recent security challenges with Microsoft Exchange on-premises solutions further validated the need for more secure, cloud-based services.
Microsoft also made significant investments in industry specific certifications in financial services, energy, health and manufacturing to meet the stringent requirements of these heavily regulated environments, making it an even more attractive option for enterprise clients.
The global as-a-service market is also adding $10 billion of bookings or annual contract value per quarter. The combined market is up over 17% and Hall said he expects that growth to continue, with Microsoft Cloud business expected to be up 40% in 2021 and their as-a-service Office 365 business up almost 15% year over year.
Focus on Security in Cloud Migration
Migrating to the cloud is much easier today than it was a few years ago. But although the cloud is a blessing when it comes provisioning, development and ease of management, it is not always the default option for all businesses, said Scott Caschette, chief information officer of Tampa, Fla.-based Schellman & Company, a global independent security and privacy compliance assessor.
He pointed out that companies that need extreme low-latency transactions, have geographical proximity restrictions or highly secure data handling needs should consider traditional methods as well as the cloud. While security is improving, some old and new attack vectors remain for cloud-based applications. That threat landscape will continue to grow as the market for cloud and SaaS networks and platforms expands and bad actors follow the money. Misconfigurations and lack of understanding by well-meaning technologists leave gaping holes in the hull of an otherwise web-worthy ship. Training, practical application and time will resolve most of the issues that we confront today.
“Remote workforce and virtual collaboration will undoubtedly be the new normal as we move past the pandemic era,” Hall said. “Identity has undoubtedly become the new perimeter, and personal responsibility with corporate data will become every company's mantra as we put trust in our untethered employees.”
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More Governance and Standards Needed for Cloud Environments
Nick Lippis, co-founder and co-chair of Newton Center, Mass.-based ONUG said the cloud has advantages but it is not for everyone. While cloud providers offer convenience to scale up and down, tools to write applications, and services to keep them in an IaaS and PaaS, what they have not been able to do is provide controls and tools that business IT staff are familiar with in their private data center environments, he said.
“Tooling, controls and governance are highly different between cloud service providers and private data centers," Lippis said. "The cloud service providers are asking businesses to trade off convenience for control. That will never happen.”
Further, there is only one cross-cloud provider standard, K8. The other area in need of standardization is security notification. Every cloud provider reports security events to customers separately, with different languages and syntax. Cloud consumption is linear but cloud security notification is exponential. That is, many large enterprises receive a million events per second or tens of petabytes of events per year.
This has driven huge cost in security infrastructure investment, including security information and event management (SIEM), security data lakes and security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR). SecOps struggle to keep up and with this volume many are hitting a wall, causing them to pause their cloud consumption.