Clouds darken in UK as on-prem makes a comeback

Not every cloud has a silver lining.
13 February 2024

“Clouds” by Elessar is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

  • Cloud-hosting services suffering from buyers’ remorse.
  • Many in the UK return to on-prem.
  • Limited use-cases for cloud?

The technology space runs on hype cycles. In 2023, talk of AI superseded the previous year’s metaverse speculation. Before that, we saw blockchain and distributed ledger technologies becoming the industry’s darling, fueling a boom-bust in cryptocurrency speculation that made – and lost – billions of dollars. A decade earlier, cloud computing dominated the technology industry’s press pages.

But it’s worth noting that the subjects of the hype du jour are, more often than not, created by vendors keen to massively over-promote their wares. As is the case in almost every commercial offering, the impetus to find something new to sell creates answers to questions that have yet to be asked.

But after the hype has died down, the gray dawn of reality begins to shed light on the decisions made just a few years ago. And in the case of cloud computing (hindsight has reduced the phrase to lower case), the aftertaste of cloud adoption is dominated by the flavor of overspending, with acid notes of unused capability.

UK turns away from cloud-hosting services

According to a survey by Citrix of UK-based IT leaders as reported by InfoWorld, 43% of respondents said moving applications and associated data to the cloud from on-premise was more expensive than they’d thought. Nearly a quarter (24%) said cloud solutions were failing to meet expectations.

The three big promises of cloud computing were agility/scalability, lower cost, and access to cutting-edge innovation. If we translate the ‘lower cost’ into ‘OPEX, not CAPEX’ (shifting figures around a spreadsheet), what’s interesting about the remaining two benefits is that both refer to infrastructure, not what happens on that infrastructure.

Cloud hosting services allow applications to run on systems that can scale according to changing levels of demand. But without significant re-engineering or even rewriting, many applications simply can’t take advantage of the rapidity of scale-up/down on offer. The exception is data storage, which can easily be expanded, given deep enough pockets.

But most applications that have been in reliable production for more than the blink of an eye gain little from being cloud-hosted. The obvious exceptions are applications written using microservices: containers that can be quickly replicated and torn down. ‘Cloud-native application’ has become a differentiating term denoting a code base divided into replicable elements that can be controlled independently.

Access to cutting-edge technologies, cloud’s third great hope, is in no way unique to cloud vendors. There’s a degree of automation in creating new infrastructure, which is certainly made simple. But organizations demand systems without vendor lock-in so that they can, theoretically at least, migrate from cloud to cloud to hunt down the best value for money. Attempts by cloud vendors to make open source technologies unique (MongoDB on AWS is a good case in point) are heading for failure.

And therein is the core lesson about cloud computing. What’s offered is most simply described as ‘someone else’s computer .’ There are layers of usability placed on top, and users can choose from a menu of pre-vetted platforms and technologies that ‘just work.’ And that facility may be useful if, for example, users create new applications based on microservices that operate on data already embedded into cloud-based workflows. But as nearly half of UK IT decision-makers have found, doing so can be more expensive than was predicted.

Why containers, after all?

It’s also worth noting that the industry standard for fleets of containers, Kubernetes, dedicates a great number of lines of code to what should happen when containers crash: keeping systems going when component parts fail. Less fashionable but more mature technologies, like VMs or FreeBSD jails, may not be as glamorous in boardroom discussions but offer a more solid basis on which to build out new features on relatively reliable existing applications.

Companies hoping to sidestep the IT staff shortage may also look at the big cloud vendors for solutions. But the slew of AWS/GCP certifications now available indicate that trained and therefore expensive personnel are a pre-requisite, regardless of where systems are located.

Cloud-hosting services don’t offer their facilities primarily for the good of users. They aim to have as many users signed up as possible, whether or not their clients’ needs are best met by what’s on offer. It’s a good match in some cases, but more companies who rode with the ‘stampede to the cloud’ are regretting being caught up in the melee.

Cloud hosting services illustrative image for article on same.

“Outrunning the Wall Cloud” by Wesley Fryer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.