Mar 05 2021

Microsoft Ignite 2021: How the Cloud Will Evolve Over the Next Decade

CEO Satya Nadella outlined five trends that will drive the next wave of cloud innovation.

During a week when Microsoft placed its heaviest emphasis ever on the power of cloud computing, company CEO Satya Nadella predicted a coming decade that will depend on decentralized computing power to drive innovation.

“Over a decade ago, we declared we were all-in on the cloud, because we understood its transformational promise and the opportunity it would create for every organization,” Nadella said during Microsoft Ignite, the annual conference for the company’s customers, partners and analysts.

Nadella bet big on the cloud when he became the company’s CEO in 2014, and since that time the company’s Azure platform has become among the largest in the world, powered partly by its comprehensive suite of Software as a Service business applications, including Microsoft 365, Teams and Dynamics. The past year, meanwhile, has forced companies that had been dragging their feet on the cloud to accelerate their adoption of it, given the cloud’s natural advantages in support of remote workforces.

    As a result, Nadella said, “we witnessed a second wave of digital transformation sweeping every company in every industry” during a period of “the most significant change to our society and economy in modern history,” and most of it is thanks to the cloud.

    Still, what’s more important now is how the cloud will evolve over the next decade, and how businesses respond to the opportunities for innovation it delivers. “The true test of technology has always been whether it can help organizations improve their time to value, increase agility and reduce costs,” he said. “As the world recovers, it will require much more from technology, and the cloud in particular, to help us address our greatest challenges.”

    Computing Has Reached ‘Peak Centralization’

    Nadella argued that five “key attributes” will drive the cloud over the next 10 years These are:

    Ubiquitous and decentralized computing. The chief executive said every organization — “small or large, in every industry in every country”— will require more “ubiquitous and decentralized” computing power. Computers will continue to get more powerful, thanks to a combination of advances in manufacturing and materials, leading to “continued exponential growth in compute capacity.”However, Nadella said, the world has reached “peak centralization” with respect to its computing power, meaning that to achieve new advancements, it will have to continue placing more workloads on the cloud and at the edge, finally breaking its reliance on centralized data centers. That, in turn, will lead to new innovations in cloud and edge computing. “As computing becomes embedded everywhere in our world, transforming how we interact with people, places and things, and as our physical and digital worlds converge, we will require more sovereignty and decentralized control,” he said. “Cloud and edge computing will evolve to meet all these real-world needs.”

    Sovereign data and ambient intelligence. Data has become the new currency of business, and it will continue to explode in volume, variety and velocity. That will require organizations to place even more emphasis on privacy and governance, which will need to be supported by ever-smarter artificial intelligence. “We will develop new methods of machine learning to drive the next generation of personalized yet privacy-preserving services,” he said. “Businesses logic will move from being code that’s written to code that’s learned from data, creating a completely new generation of business process and productivity systems.” He predicted that AI will play a critical role in solving every problem the world faces, from climate to change to personalized medicine.

    MORE FROM BIZTECH: Strategies for securing data through cloud storage encryption.

    Empowered creators and communities. New computing power means empowered workers, students and individuals. Just as the past decade saw big increases in tech-supported consumption, from more binge watching to more online shopping, the next will see huge leaps in tech-powered creation. In fact, it will usher in a “radical democratization of creation,” with expanded access to tools, platforms and skills for everyone from code writers and app builders to makers of viral TikTok videos.

    Expanded economic opportunities for the global workforce. All that new creation will naturally deliver new economic opportunities for workers. Businesses are going to have to change the way they train and manage employees. “We need to build continuous feedback loops between the work, skills and credentials required for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” Nadella said. “We need to define productivity much more broadly, to be inclusive of collaboration, learning and well-being. All this needs to be done with flexibility in terms of when, where and how people work.”

    Trust by design. Big Tech has been struggling with reputational challenges, especially around the issues of consumer privacy and its long-term plans for AI as it relates to human workers. The industry must address these issues forthrightly, Nadella said. “No one wants to build technology that rapidly scales but breaks the world around us, and no customer wants to depend on companies that sell tech to them on one end and compete with them on the other,” Nadella said. “We need to have ethical principles govern the design, development and deployment of AI. Our tech needs to be secure by design and promote zero-trust architectural principles. We need to build tech while protecting people’s fundamental rights, including privacy. And we need tech advances that protect our must fundamental asset: our environment."

    Follow BizTech’s full coverage of Microsoft Ignite here.

    Getty Images/ baranozdemir

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