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2020 IT and Cloud Computing Trends

December 19, 2019

This post is one part of G2's 2020 digital trends series. Read more about G2’s approach to digital transformation trends in an introduction from Michael Fauscette, G2's chief research officer.

Let’s break down what I feel to be some of the more important IT and cloud computing trends to keep an eye on in 2020.

Hardware is dead—software will define everything


General necessity for a broad hardware stack will fade away as solutions become increasingly cloud-driven, virtualized, and software-defined. “Appliance-attached” solutions will decline in favor of dedicated, pure software solutions performing similar functions.

No, hardware isn’t going away. Server stacks still exist, as do network switches, load balancers, and a plethora of other hardware solutions.

However, unlike ever before, classic IT infrastructure is unnecessary for most businesses, even enterprises. Companies can save on their capital expenditure (CapEx) which was once poured into on-premise servers and data centers, as these are no longer required to run a successful business.

This fundamental shift occurred as a result of the expansion of the cloud. As cloud computing developed, businesses quickly noticed how they could shift the heavy CapEx needed for building servers and data centers into significantly more manageable operational expenditures (OpEx) using the subscription model for cloud computing. Less upfront CapEx cost for infrastructure meant companies could devote more funds to other business needs. 

While incredibly beneficial for small and midsize businesses, vendors in the enterprise space hesitated to transition to the cloud; many large companies had invested in their own data centers and infrastructure, only using cloud for SaaS and leaning on their infrastructure otherwise. This mentality has changed. Small and midsize businesses benefit from the cloud model cost-wise; enterprises benefit from its flexibility and scalability. The demand for enterprise-owned hardware has decreased as cloud providers take on more of the burden for enterprise storage and server space.

RELATED: View our Winter 2019 Buyers' Guide for cloud computing infrastructure, here →

What hasn’t been left to cloud providers has been pushed to virtualized and software-defined solutions sourced from local hardware. Two strong examples of this include virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). Virtualized and software-defined infrastructure have significantly reduced hardware needs, allowing companies to do more with less. They’re more versatile products that run on a variety of systems to help meet a broad range of needs and pre-existing requirements.

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This means that the remaining enterprise hardware is either incredibly broad in scope (e.g., general storage) or highly specialized (e.g., network switches and balancers). Software solutions are rarely sold with specific hardware anymore; essentially, we’re watching the death of “appliance-attached” as a sales model. Ultimately, this is going to be more beneficial for businesses across the board, as hardware either fulfill a broad set of needs or highly niche ones.

Multicloud infrastructure overtakes cloud consolidation


As top cloud infrastructure players consume smaller cloud services providers, businesses will diversify their cloud infrastructure amongst several providers rather than a lone source.*

I’ve written previously that top cloud service providers (CSPs) have steadily consumed smaller CSPs, notably in the cloud migration and cloud data security sectors. At face value, this consumption strategy bolsters major CSPs’ cloud infrastructure offerings. Businesses can utilize these vendors for all their cloud needs, using them as a one-stop, full-service shop for cloud infrastructure.

However, cloud consolidation is strategically weaker than a multicloud approach. According to IBM, 85% of businesses are leaning into multicloud for their daily operations.

Businesses have recognized several significant advantages multicloud offers over cloud consolidation.
  • Consolidated cloud services lead to vendor lock-in, the state where a business’s core functions are dependent on one provider. A provider outage creates a business-wide outage, and a business-wide outage is unacceptable.
  • Based on economics alone, multicloud drives industry health. Competition fosters innovation, encourages improvement, and helps normalize costs. If a business functions on a consolidated infrastructure through a single vendor, the likelihood for the Comcast effect service stagnation increases; when there’s no competitive incentive to improve, services suffer.
  • Best of breed cloud infrastructure has more business advantages and can be inaccessible when using a cloud consolidation approach. Utilizing best of breed encourages businesses to implement highly optimized virtual infrastructure, databases, containers, and more.
  • Disparate cloud systems naturally lend themselves to addressing growing data privacy and data security concerns. It’s easier to access and govern segmented systems. Additionally, privacy laws—including HIPAA, CCPA, and GDPR—are easier to adhere to within individual cloud systems.
  • Multicloud allows businesses to utilize multiple vendors so they can implement servers closer to their customers. This is especially beneficial for time-sensitive industries including finance or e-sports, where milliseconds can impact outcomes.

The case for multicloud infrastructure adoption is straightforward. Setup and management might require more attentiveness, but the payoff is greater. Since more effort goes into multicloud, top vendors pushing cloud consolidation is an aggressive play targeting the preference for convenience. However, “we’ll make things easier for you” doesn’t mean “we’ll make things better for you,” but that’s the mindset that is pushed.

Expect major providers to push harder towards consolidated cloud services. There will be more acquisitions, more added services, and a more focused effort on converting businesses to single-vendor lock-in.

In the midst of this, anticipate privacy, security, and governance as distinguishing factors between cloud providers in the coming year. Privacy and security violations are costly offenses, and as more privacy and security laws go into effect, businesses must increase their vigilance in handling customer data. 

RELATED: Learn about the challenges of multicloud solution management and security, here

Regarding other CSPs, specialization will be important to keep an eye on. Cloud infrastructure optimized for specific use cases or industries might be attractive enough to sway businesses from generalist offerings. 

*Note: While major players typically refers to Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, it should be observed that Amazon far outpaces its competition—with nearly double in satisfaction and market presence scores. See our Fall 2019 Cloud Infrastructure Report for further details.

As IT and data proliferate the enterprise, so do their governing principles

The modern business portfolio of infrastructure and software solutions is daunting; more massive, though, is the volume of data businesses create and consume daily. A single customer or prospect can use numerous data points, as can each individual transaction, process, and workflow. All of this data is housed on premise, in the cloud, or within a hybrid system and must integrate with the business’s software stack. 

This mass of data, transactions, and infrastructure can become overwhelming without proper for management and interaction guidelines. As a result, more businesses are adopting established principles—or developing their own—to formalize the interactions amongst data, technology, the business, and the client.

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Most IT organizations are familiar with these kinds of principles in some way, thanks to one of the more common sets of practices called the information technology infrastructure library (ITIL). ITIL is a prominent example of IT principles that helps align IT activities with the rest of the business, and normalizes intra- and inter-business IT processes so that they can be repeatable, reliable, and measurable. ITIL lays out practices and strategies that assist with change management, reporting, business relationships, and more.

The growing conglomerate of infrastructure, software solutions, and data driving the modern business requires governing rules and principles such as ITIL to ensure consistency, structure, and propriety. These principles must apply to a company’s internal activities and how companies interact with clients and other businesses through their data and technologies. At a broader business level, the starting point for these principles includes taking existing IT focused principles and expanding them to the business at large. 

We’re already seeing this expansion happen. For example, service governance, the application of IT service management principles to the entire organization, has already begun. I anticipate this will continue to happen with existing principles and practices surrounding data integration and privacy, particularly as privacy and security laws become more prevalent. We’ll continue to see more technology and data driven policies influence broad corporate policies as technology and data fully integrate with the business experience.

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