2018…the year of the cloud

Cloud computing was big news in 2017 as it continued to play an increasingly important role in reshaping how big companies conduct business. That trend promises to continue into 2018 as cloud builds a critical mass, playing a key role in digital transformation.

Retailers, for example, are investing in cloud so they can achieve a truly omnichannel approach to their operations, blurring the boundaries between on and off-line and giving the customer the best level of service no matter where they are.

Financial institutions and professional services companies are also investing heavily in cloud – even if many hesitate to acknowledge this publicly. The United States’ eighth largest commercial bank, Capital One, for example, recently revealed it is a heavy user of the Amazon Web Services cloud and is in the process of reducing its traditional data centre footprint from eight in 2014 to three by the end of 2018.

Here we look at how industry leaders such as Amazon and Microsoft continued to break new boundaries in the past 12 months, making cloud more scalable, cost efficient and effective than ever before.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) continues to astonish

Everything about Amazon’s secure cloud platform (which offers gargantuan data storage and computing power among other things) is staggering.

AWS boasts one million business users and will return revenue estimated at $18bn for 2017 – so it must be doing something right.

Flexibility is key

What’s revolutionising the computing industry and attracting countless business customers, is the sheer flexibility AWS offers. You can scale services up and down whenever you need them, without prior notification, with the only limitation the size of your wallet.

So, if you need a huge server to carry out a task that is CPU intensive, such as big data analysis, AWS makes that available the moment you need it. AWS has terabytes of memory available if necessary.

A Serverless future?

AWS and other major cloud service providers are moving beyond the initial concept of virtual servers that need to be managed by the customer to serverless hosting of online functionality. Introduced a few years ago, AWS Lambda is now seeing wider adoption, allowing the development of dynamic applications that scale infinitely without the need to provision the hosts that they run on.

The recently announced Fargate service is now adopting this approach for running containers to simplify the deployment model. Instead of creating and managing virtual servers to run the application, you just need to package the application as a container, specify CPU, memory, and network requirements before launching it. There are no clusters to manage; Fargate takes care of the infrastructure needed to scale and run the application.

Good news for Black Pepper and its customers

We’re so impressed by the continuing rise of AWS that we’re using the service for customers such as Wolsley, the UK’s biggest supplier of plumbing and heating products. We’re using AWS to show the benefits of Wolsley’s e-business services and for B2B communications. Black Pepper is also considering migrating some of its own internal servers to AWS.

Microsoft opens up

The last couple of years has seen the Redmond software giant relax it's previous hostile attitude to the open source community. Microsoft's Azure cloud does more than support the Linux operating system as an alternative to Windows; the Azure Cloud Switch is a Linux distribution created by Microsoft as part of their cloud infrastructure. The Docker container platform now runs natively on Windows and SQL Server is available for Linux.

Earlier this year saw Microsoft’s release of .Net Core 2.0 – a move which effectively made public the source code used in its application development framework.

This open-sourcing of the Microsoft ‘special sauce’ means programmers can now use .Net Core 2.0 to build Windows applications on non-Microsoft platforms and non-Microsoft hardware.

Why the big move?

Microsoft realised that its lunch was being eaten by other platforms that work far better on the cloud. So, rather than losing its market share completely, Microsoft made the code publicly available. Open-sourcing is a huge cultural shift for Microsoft, which has traditionally tried to kill-off the open-source community with its time honoured-strategy of embrace, extend and extinguish.

The verdict: .Net Core 2.0 is still a long way behind industry leaders such as Java, but Microsoft has the expertise and deep pockets to become a real contender.

OpenShift makes cutting-edge cloud deployment easier

OpenShift Origin, which is Red Hat’s free and open source cloud development platform as a service, has continued to stand out as a leading cloud platform during 2017. This is mainly thanks to the seamless way it enables programmers to build, deploy, test and manage cloud technology.

Flexibility and convenience: Building on the increasingly popular Kubernetes container orchestration platform, the solution pulls together a raft of existing technologies; programmers need only work within one platform. It is also flexible enough to enable programmers to use the development tools and frameworks most suitable to the needs of the system.

OpenShift can automatically or manually scale resources up or down according to demand and this ensures there is no degradation of performance.

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