Since 2012, cloud portfolio management company RightScale has conducted an annual survey designed to uncover trends in how organisations are adopting cloud technology, what benefits they gain, the challenges they perceive, and which cloud vendors they are using. The ensuing State of the Cloud reports are a useful bellwether for the industry.

RightScale’s surveys encompass a range of company sizes: the 2016 State of the Cloud Report, for example, is based on responses from 1,060 IT professionals, a third (33%) of whom are from small businesses with under 100 employees; 42 percent work in enterprises with over 1000 employees, while the remaining 25 percent are from medium-sized companies employing 101-1000 people.

The most common industry sectors in RightScale’s 2016 survey are Software (25%) and Tech Services (24%), with Financial Services, Education, Media & Publishing, Hardware and Business Services accounting for 24 percent between them and the remainder (27%) classified as ‘Other’. Most respondents (61%) are from North America, with Europe (19%), Asia (13%) and the Rest of World (7%) making up the numbers.

Respondents’ roles are predominantly in IT/Ops or Dev (55% and 34% respectively in 2016) rather than Business (11% in 2016). Among the 26 percent who are at ‘Architect’ level in 2016, 40 percent identify themselves as Cloud Architects as opposed to IT (44%) or Dev (16%) Architects.

Previous years’ surveys show broadly similar demographic patterns — mostly IT pros in medium-to-large tech companies in North America.

SEE: Job description: Cloud engineer


What trends might we expect to see in RightScale’s multi-year cloud survey data? Enterprises are likely to keep a certain percentage of workloads (perhaps 10-15%) running on on-premises (virtualised or private cloud) infrastructure for the foreseeable future, for a variety of reasons — security, compliance and/or migration difficulty, for example. This leaves the majority (75-90%) of enterprise workloads up for grabs, in due course, by public cloud vendors such as Amazon and Google. In this scenario, the currently fashionable hybrid cloud model may prove to be a relatively short-lived phenomenon, catering for cautious organisations until they’re ready to take the full public-cloud plunge.

Smaller businesses, meanwhile, are more likely to make extensive use of public cloud services, because they will have little or no legacy data centre infrastructure to contend with and little incentive to spend money deploying and maintaining new on-premises hardware and software.

Cloud Maturity Model

Since 2013, RightScale has classified organisations based on their levels of cloud adoption. There are five categories in the Cloud Maturity Model: No Plans; Cloud Watchers (planning, but no deployments); Cloud Beginners (proof of concepts and first deployments); Cloud Explorers (multiple deployments, looking to improve/expand cloud use); and Cloud Focused (heavy cloud users, looking to optimise operations and costs). Here’s how the survey population has fitted into this model over the years:

Clearly, the majority of RightScale’s respondents deploy workloads in the cloud — the proportion who are either Beginners, Explorers or Focused rises from 75 percent in 2013 to 80 percent in 2016. When enterprises (>1000 employees) and SMBs (<1000 employees) are compared, a bigger percentage of SMBs are Cloud Focused in 2016 (32% versus 25%), but enterprises show the most growth in this category between 2015 and 2016 than SMBs (18%-25% versus 29%-32%).

Hybrid Cloud Adoption

At the moment, hybrid cloud holds sway in RightScale’s survey population, with 71 percent adopting this mode in 2016 compared to 58 percent in 2014. The increase in hybrid cloud is largely down to an increase in private cloud deployments (up from 65% in 2014 to 77% in 2016):

When it comes to enterprises in particular, the vast majority make use of multiple cloud services:

As you’d expect, most of those enterprise ‘multi-cloud’ deployments are hybrid cloud, rather than multiple private or multiple public clouds:

When enterprises were asked to estimate the numbers of virtual machines they were running, the biggest differences between 2015 and 2016 were in the ‘over-1000’ bracket — in public clouds (17%, up from 13%), private clouds (31%, up from 22%) and virtualised environments (48%, up from 42%).

Across the entire 2016 survey population, organisations were running apps in 1.5 public and 1.7 private clouds on average, and ‘experimenting’ with a further 1.5 public and 1.3 private clouds, making an average of 6 altogether.

We noted earlier that we’d expect SMBs to embrace public cloud, and enterprises to keep a proportion of sensitive or mission-critical workloads in-house — at least in the near-to-medium term. This is borne out by RightScale’s 2016 data, which shows the most common public/private cloud split for SMBs is 100% public/0% private (24% of SMBs), while for enterprises it’s 20% public/80% private (39% of enterprises):

SEE: Research: Hybrid cloud – deployment, drivers, strategies and value

Cloud benefits

When asked about the perceived benefits of moving workloads to the cloud, the number-one advantage, cited by 62 percent of respondents, was ‘Faster access to infrastructure’. This was also the largest increase over the 2015 survey, up from 57 percent. Next came ‘Greater scalability’ (58%), ‘Higher availability’ (52%) and ‘Faster time to market’ (52% — the second largest increase from 2015, up from 48%).

Interestingly, cost-related issues — ‘Move capex to opex’, ‘IT staff efficiency’ and ‘Cost savings’ — propped up the 2016 benefits table, all being cited by less than 40 percent of respondents.

When sliced into Cloud Maturity Model categories (see above), RightScale’s 2016 (and earlier) data also shows that greater cloud experience engenders greater perceived benefits: for example, over 80 percent of respondents in Cloud Focused organisations cited ‘Faster access to infrastructure’ compared to under 40 percent of Cloud Beginners.

Cloud challenges

Security concerns are often given as a reason to be wary of the cloud, and indeed were the number-one challenge reported in RightScale’s 2014 and 2015 surveys. In 2016, however, security was overtaken by ‘Lack of resources/expertise’, which moved from joint last to first place in the ‘Cloud challenges’ list between 2014 and 2016:

Other fast-rising cloud challenges are ‘Managing multiple cloud services’ and ‘Managing costs’ — noticeably operational concerns, rather than early-stage adoption headaches.

As you’d expect, security ranks higher as a challenge among enterprise respondents than the general survey population — 37% in 2016 versus 32%. However, this figure has dropped steadily, from 47% in 2014 and 41% in 2015.

Mirroring the cloud benefits picture, greater cloud experience reduces the challenges that organisations perceive. For example, nearly 40 percent of Cloud Beginners cite ‘Lack of resources/expertise’ as a challenge, compared to around 25 percent of Cloud Focused organisations. Interestingly Cloud Watchers, who are in the early stages of cloud adoption, were the only group to cite security as their number-one challenge.

SEE: Power checklist: Managing and troubleshooting cloud storage

The rise of DevOps and Docker

As RightScale points out, DevOps and cloud are closely correlated, because both are key enablers of digital transformation via rapid application and service development. So it’s no surprise to see DevOps adoption rise rapidly in the surveys, from 54 percent in 2013 to 74 percent in 2016:

As you might expect, DevOps is more prevalent in enterprises, with 81 percent adoption in the 2016 survey versus 70 percent for SMBs. However, only 21 percent of enterprises have adopted DevOps company-wide: 31 percent adopt it at the business unit/division level, while 29 percent restrict it to projects or teams.

As far as DevOps tools are concerned, Chef and Puppet have ruled the roost to date, with Docker, in particular, hard on their heels (in the 2016 survey, an additional 35% of respondents ‘plan to use’ Docker, compared to 19% and 18% for Chef and Puppet respectively):

Although the top four DevOps tools are the same for enterprises and SMBs (Puppet, Chef, Docker and Ansible) the adoption levels are greater in enterprises (42%, 37%, 29% and 23% versus 25%, 28%, 26% and 17% respectively).

Also beginning to make their presence felt in RightScale’s recent surveys are container orchestration tools such as Kubernetes, Swarm and Mesosphere.

AWS in the driving seat

Amazon continues to rule the public cloud roost, with 57 percent of respondents running some applications on AWS in the 2016 survey:

However, Azure is making headway, showing the most growth between 2014 and 2016: the most recent survey also shows that a higher percentage of organisations are experimenting with or planning to use Microsoft’s Azure services.

The same basic pattern — AWS the dominant player, with Azure (IaaS and PaaS) on the rise in second place — is evident in both the enterprise and SMB segments, although there are differences in the ‘also-ran’ placings: VMware VCloud Air and IBM SoftLayer are fourth and fifth among enterprises, while Google App Engine and DigitalOcean take these spots in the SMB ranking.

VMware is the Amazon of the private cloud world, with VSphere/vCenter in use by 44 percent of 2016 respondents and vCloud Suite by 19 percent. Bare-metal clouds make their debut in the 2016 survey, coming in with 15 percent usage:

The 2016 survey also shows that enterprises are more likely to use traditional vendors such as VMware and Microsoft, while SMBs have lower private cloud adoption levels and, after VMware, are more likely to use open-source or bare-metal solutions.

Read more

For more on cloud adoption, and the hybrid cloud model in particular, see ZDNet’s special report: Integrating the Hybrid Cloud.