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Why cloud infrastructure is the unsung hero in the fight against Covid-19

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/bluebay)

From a technology standpoint, cloud is very much an unsung hero in the fight against Covid-19.

Over the past five months, cloud has been mobilized by public and private organizations in ways never thought possible before to help solve the immense challenges we have faced.

To name just a few novel applications, cloud has enabled us to scale up Covid-19 testing at speed, launch the ambitious furlough scheme, roll out telemedicine, move schooling online and streamline the switch to work from home for millions of employees.

An achievement certainly worthy of our attention.

Clap for cloud

Cloud adoption has been increasing rapidly in recent years, as part of strategies to improve the scalability of organization’s datacenters while reducing IT costs and risks.

According to Gartner, estimates forecasted the public cloud services market would grow by 17 percent this year (worth $266.4 billion) based on the trajectory we were on pre-pandemic. This, it turns out, was a conservative estimate.

2020 marks a new era for cloud computing, kick-started by the challenges presented by Covid-19. Its adoption has increased beyond what experts could ever have imagined at the start of the year, and innovative new uses have been developed opening-up opportunities previously unimaginable within such short timescales.

The versatility of cloud technology

The versatility of cloud technology has been invaluable during the pandemic. It has given governments the means to scale up its testing and track and trace capabilities, both of which are key weapons in controlling the spread of the virus.

It’s also supporting the international scientific research community in their vaccine development efforts. By allowing researchers to create computer models to map how the Coronavirus is infecting human cells, cloud and AI has given scientists a head start in designing a vaccine to block this process, shaving years off normal development timeframes.

In the public sector, cloud computing has allowed educators to enact contingency plans in the face of prolonged closures. School buildings may have stood empty for months, but education has not stopped. The move from classroom to cloud-based lessons has meant millions of students around the world have been able to continue learning from home.

The switch to remote telemedicine for GPs and consultants has also been heavily facilitated by cloud technology. This is an extraordinary shift away from surgery-based appointments which have been the default way of accessing healthcare until now.

Governments have also been able to deliver new user-centered digital services for the first time. A great example of this is the furlough scheme - or Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – which has, with relative ease, allowed organizations to claim back the wages of millions of employees on PAYE.

To think the government would be able to build a system that reverses the complex tax system in the space of under a month would be unimaginable pre-pandemic.

In the commercial space, cloud adoption has helped businesses of all sizes to mobilize their staff remotely and teams to continue to work collaboratively while apart. While the transition to remote working has been accelerating in recent years, many organizations have been forced to experiment with home working for the first time.

A safety net or a growth enabler?

Business contingency planning and disaster recovery will be a priority for many coming out the other side of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The disruption serves as a poignant reminder that digital transformation is key to survival in the era in which we now live and the importance of being able to scale up and scale down, as well as test new systems in a safe environment.

As this national emergency situation has shown us, the ability to switch between on-premise and public cloud, and test new solutions in a closed environment, is a valuable insurance policy to have in place.

As well as being a safety net, cloud computing is very much a growth enabler. As a driver of efficiency, cloud can streamline the way an organization operates and give a competitive edge.

Room to grow

It’s easy for businesses in this challenging time to get caught up in the here and now, taking each day as it comes. But having invested in cloud and reaping the benefits of this technology, organizations must start thinking ahead to maximize their cloud capabilities.

One of the key rewards of cloud is its scalability but developing a successful cloud strategy takes time and careful planning. Yes, it will help from the get-go but to really leverage its benefits you need to be thinking more long-term about what your organization wants to achieve and pre-empt the need to scale your cloud infrastructure up or down at critical points.

There are a many cloud types: public, private and hybrid. We are also now seeing the emergence of multi-cloud, so let’s look at these options in more detail.

Public cloud is the most popular and is accessed via a third-party provider. It’s simple to set up an account and provides the unlimited space needed as organizations outgrow their local network or private cloud. Scalability is simple with public cloud, too, with most providers offering fees simply based on usage.

Private cloud, on the other hand, is an exclusive platform, meaning organizations can customize the cloud environment to match their exact needs and scale it according to their usage. 

Hybrid cloud options tie together the benefits of both private and public cloud. It offers the safety of a private network but adjusts to usage demands. Organizations can store their most sensitive data on a secure private network while utilizing the size and scale of public cloud to store less sensitive information.

But many organizations are now finding themselves in a multi-cloud world with a more strategic emphasis, driven by different technical or business requirements. This is mainly due to the emergence of Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud-based collaboration tooling, which has accelerated during Covid-19.

A multi-cloud approach can minimize latency, help organizations meet their data governance requirements, avoid vendor lock-in but often at the expense of trading-off between portability and full functionality, and make for better security, failover and disaster recovery.

A bright future ahead

It’s clear that during this unprecedented time the value of cloud has not only just been demonstrated and proven. Cloud infrastructure has got a great capacity, is resilient and secure, offering a fast and efficient way to move workloads.

While it’s difficult to predict how and when the Covid-19 pandemic might end, we can be certain that there’s a bright future ahead for cloud technology and the organizations who adopt it.

Looking forward, in the next 10 years, cloud will be so ubiquitous it’ll simply be known as “computing”, bringing down its price at the point of use. A multi cloud model will become the norm, helping businesses keep agile in the fast-paced digital race and helping to solve the current problem of vendor lock-in, where migration between service providers can be difficult and costly.

As we move towards a world where cloud is the dominant computing infrastructure, new and more intelligent capabilities will be developed to process the huge quantities of data being collected that no human IT team could possibly handle. Predictive AI applications and cloud will go hand in hand, equipping businesses large and small with the capability to be one step ahead of their customers and competitors.

Dean Gardner, Chief Technologist for Cloud, Softcat (opens in new tab)

Dean Gardner is Chief Technologist for Cloud at Softcat, providing strategic advice on how cloud computing and digital transformation can take business forward.