In an evolving cloud world, Azure passes AWS

Flexera 2022 State of the Cloud survey finds data warehouses, databases, and containers to be the top cloud draws, with serverless and AI/ML rising fast.

Reliance on cloud is growing rapidly—and with some surprising new trends. Most notably, Microsoft Azure seems to be either closing the gap, or has slightly surpassed, Amazon Web Services (AWS) with some users. Specifically, Azure appears to have passed AWS in the percentage of enterprises using it (80% Azure vs. 77% AWS), meaning public or private sector organizations with 1,000 or more employees.

This and other developments in cloud usage are among the findings in the newly released Flexera 2022 State of the Cloud Report. The report also found that businesses continue to embrace multicloud, as has been the case over the past decade. Today 89% of respondents have a multicloud strategy, and 80% have a hybrid cloud strategy.

Small-to-midsized businesses or SMBs, with fewer than 1,000 employees, are catching up with their larger peers. Cloud spend by SMBs shows a massive uptake, with 53% of SMBs spending more than $1.2 million annually on cloud—up from 38% reported last year. This growing spend reflects SMBs’ move toward the public cloud. Within the next 12 months, 63% of SMB workloads will reside in a public cloud, compared to 56% of workloads of all respondents.

Which technologies are companies using in the cloud? There are a few standouts.  Containers are now mainstream; 47% of organizations are currently using AWS ECS/EKS, 43% use Docker, and 42% use Kubernetes. Use of public cloud platform-as-a-service (PaaS) services is also rising. Cloud data warehousing has been embraced by 58% of enterprises. Interest in serverless computing (functions-as-a-service) and in artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) are particularly strong, with nearly a third (29%) of enterprise respondents experimenting with these services.

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Growing cloud usage, growing need for strategy

Cloud costs continue to grow and the amount of waste remains high. For the sixth year in a row, optimizing the existing use of cloud (cost savings) was the top initiative—not surprising, given that organizations waste an estimated 32% of cloud spend. Organizations are over budget for cloud spend by an average of 13%, and they expect cloud spend to increase by 29% next year.

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Clearly, cloud costs must be better managed in order to save money that can be reinvested back into innovation. Other findings in the Flexera 2022 State of the Cloud Report shed light on three steps companies can take to help them achieve their strategic cloud goals.

Step 1: Go beyond speeds and feeds

IT leadership requires more than knowing speeds and feeds of any particular technology. It’s about knowing what the company’s business problems are and finding ways to solve those problems.

Many organizations are taking a centralized approach to cloud to help achieve this. Nearly three out of four (74%) of enterprises have a central cloud team or cloud center of excellence (CCOE), tasked with providing centralized controls, tools, and best practices. These teams frequently govern infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) usage and costs, for example. Their goal is to accelerate cloud adoption across the company by centralizing expertise while reducing costs and risk.

These centralized teams can help ensure that cloud strategy is aligned with overall business goals, organization-wide. They shoulder most of the responsibility for cloud cost optimization, migration planning, and governance. They also serve in an advisory capacity to help stakeholders make informed decisions and ensure the apps selected comply with the governance framework and security policies. More than 50% of these teams advise on apps appropriate for cloud, plan for cloud migrations, manage/optimize costs of cloud services, and set policies for cloud use.

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Step 2: Recognize the need for FinOps

FinOps, the field of cloud financial management, is becoming increasingly important in the effort to keep cloud costs in check. FinOps teams are joining other groups, including IT/Ops and CCOEs, to keep costs down.

FinOps teams can help organizations take advantage of all cloud provider discounting options, such as reserved instances, savings plans, or committed use discounts. FinOps can also partner with central IT teams to provide guardrails for cloud use and for controlling shadow IT. Initiatives may include identifying and implementing automated cloud cost optimization to reduce wasted spend, including policies to shut down workloads after hours, rightsize instances, or specify expiration dates.

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Step 3: Understand the tooling options

Third-party tools that assist in areas such as orchestration and container management seem to be losing ground to native tooling—tools offered by the cloud providers themselves. As native tooling gains traction, a clear understanding of the tooling options can help guarantee appropriate procurement decisions that both support workload needs and meet budgetary goals.

Third-party tools that saw a drop in usage over the past year include Ansible (to 27% of respondents from 31% last year), Chef (to 20% from 27%); Puppet (to 20% from 27%), Salt/SaltStack (to 5% from 12%), and Terraform (to 30% from 36%). AWS CloudFormation templates (used by 50%) and Azure Resource Manager templates (used by 48%) are now the most widely adopted configuration tools by respondents.

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As cloud usage evolves, so should strategies. Relying on the clouds, tools, and organizational structures that best meet business needs is essential for achieving the long-term success of cloud goals.

Brian Adler is senior director of cloud market strategy at Flexera and was previously a senior director analyst at Gartner.

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