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Cloud repatriation follow-up: Do you really know the value proposition of cloud?

A few weeks ago, I blogged my thoughts about cloud repatriation and how it feels like an over-emphasized trend. In my professional analysis amid researching various reports and interacting with data center vendors, one of the key pieces of the cloud repatriation narrative is that customers will move to cloud without a full picture of the costs and ultimately retreat to a more predictable environment. Seems like a reasonable hypothesis, but has this been tested? Also, is cost really the core decision driver?

A recent call with an enterprise IT buyer shone light on this topic, as much of their story about consuming IT didn’t align to the market generalizations. For starters:

  • The buyer is in the healthcare industry but is using cloud services, even migrating some critical applications like ERP to a SaaS-based solution. Generally, it’s thought that the industries with sensitive data will stay away from cloud solutions.
  • The company typically keep $500 million in the bank at any given time, meaning the perceived challenge of capex outlay associated with on-premises solutions isn’t much of an issue to drive it to adopt off-premises cloud solutions.
  • But the real kicker? The customer indicated its cloud-based solutions are at best cost-neutral and sometimes even more expensive than their on-premises counterparts.

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as these elements are counter to the typical IT industry narrative. If an enterprise is investing in an off-premises solution already knowing they will pay the same or more than an on-premises solution, what’s the point?

Let’s look at this particular customer’s cloud journey. Their first foray into enterprise cloud was, like for many businesses, using Office 365 and products such as Exchange for email. Based on the value seen from this implementation, including reduced management overhead and end-user benefits, they started adopting cloud-based offerings in other areas of the IT stack.

When describing the organization’s process for making decisions around acquiring IT solutions, the buyer described a fairly complex, quantitative strategy for assessing the ROI of any given solution over a three-year period. The assessment includes four facets:

  1. Will it save time? This can include making IT employees more efficient or enabling business unit employees to improve their workflows.
  2. Will it save money? A detailed calculation considers elements like license costs, management overhead and how these will change over the three-year period.
  3. Will it make money? This particular buyer works for an organization that acquires other companies often. The buyer described a scenario where using cloud solutions helped integrate an acquisition target’s data within two weeks and enabled a new product to be launched within a month of the acquisition.
  4. Will it reduce risk? Risk can take many forms, from risk of an IT outage to risk of interrupted operations or compromised IT security.

This is one example from one enterprise, but it illustrates the point that cost is far from the only factor being weighed when making choices about how IT is going to be delivered. Or at the very least, cost is not simply what you pay for a solution; decision makers must consider the many risks and benefits that spider across an organization. A higher fee for an IT solution might be a small price to pay if it increases your time to market by three times or more. Moral of the story: Know what the actual criteria are for your customers’ decision making. You may be failing to sell to their most important buying points. Or, you may be sending the wrong message!

Is ‘cloud repatriation’ real?

Cloud repatriation is real, but not real enough to change the prevailing cloud trajectory. Think of it as the exception, and not the rule.

It’s a question I’ve heard multiple times: “We heard that [insert giant company name] is taking their apps/data off [insert giant public cloud vendor name] and moving it back into their own data center. Is this the beginning of a big shift?” If your job is in any way related to selling products or services for enterprise data centers, “cloud repatriation” sounds like a promising concept. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft have been eating the lunch of a whole bunch of IT companies, and those IT companies would like that lunch back, thank you very much. But is the exodus of customers from public cloud really happening? Well, I have some good news and some bad news.

Bad news first: Cloud repatriation is not a market-changer

Cloud repatriation is not real in the sense of being a major, market-shifting trend worthy of its own buzzword. I will not deny the existence of one-off customers making a monumental shift away from public cloud. TBR sees anecdotal evidence of companies leaving public cloud environments, but we don’t see a wholesale move to strictly on-premises environments. The numbers tell it all: TBR estimates the PaaS and IaaS market grew 16% overall in the second quarter, with the big three juggernauts (AWS, Microsoft, Google) growing 58% on average within the segment, accounting for about $10 billion of the quarterly segment revenue. If anything, the public cloud market is moving toward an oligopoly as it consolidates. But it’s not shrinking. The market growth is far outpacing the loss of any customers that may be defecting.

The good news: Companies continue to use on-premises data centers, negating the need for repatriation

Very few companies see a future without owning some kind of data center. Apps that never leave the data center do not need to be repatriated in the first place (although they will likely need to evolve to a more agile and scalable delivery method). As you can see in Figure 1, the bulk of companies expect to maintain a roughly even mix of on-premises apps and those in hosted cloud environments. Smaller companies are most aggressive in their desire to reduce their on-premises footprint while the largest companies make it clear they don’t see a future in hosting everything. These projections make sense to me, especially based on my conversations with IT execs in small and large enterprises. Smaller companies tend to be concerned about the proficiency of their own data center while larger companies are full of complexities that make moving to a new environment a challenge.

Application hosting strategy by number of employees

The reality: Most companies seek a balance

By and large, companies are evaluating the best fit for workloads, acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Regardless of the type of cloud(s) being used, more than 80% of users will either maintain or expand their environments over the next three years. The proportion of buyers planning for public cloud expansion exceeds that of those engaging in on-premises private cloud expansion. But the fact remains that there is not a mass exodus from any specific environment. Regardless of environment, changes and evolutions will occur, even within self-built private clouds.

Companies' expected changes in current cloud usage for 2018, 2019 and 2020

Given that business-to-business buyers are all over the map when it comes to cloud adoption, where can IT vendors succeed? There’s no easy answer, however, when discussing this topic with my colleague Senior Analyst Cassandra Mooshian, she had this to say:

“Recognizing there will be both exceptions and changes for most customers over the next three years is important for vendors, regardless of their cloud point of view. Yes, there will be workloads that have migrated to cloud that will move back to a traditional or on-premises delivery method. However, there will also be services deployed on premises that could eventually be moved to a cloud environment as customer needs and costs change. Something simple, yet critical, for vendors is to understand that no two IT environments are the same, especially across market tiers. Vendors may want their customers to go all-in on cloud, but that just is not feasible for larger organizations or even smaller companies in regulated industries or regions.

“The key to vendor success is to understand that there will be workloads best suited for cloud, while others may work just fine in legacy environments. The kicker will be in helping customers embrace hybrid, understand what works best where, and ultimately integrate and orchestrate it across each customer’s unique blend of legacy and cloud workloads. Once trust is established and there’s a mutual understanding around the idea that all options can and should be considered, that’s when long-term relationships start, and each company has a ‘favorite’ vendor or two.”

To discuss this topic further or learn about TBR’s cloud customer research, contact me at [email protected].