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Around the turn of each year I often get asked to contribute to “year in review” round ups and “look ahead” type articles. We’re already a few weeks into 2021 now so I thought I better share the topics I’ve been raising in those look ahead pieces, before we are so far into the year that it starts to look more like hindsight! We all have differing views into the crystal ball though, so I’d love to hear what makes your list too. Please do add comments or reach out on twitter to add in your 2 cents to the debate.

Clearly 2020 was both a heavily disrupted but also transformational year in technology and work practice terms. We’ve witnessed the continued relentless growth of data, but with a raft of new challenges brought about by the pandemic. The analyst firm Gartner have started to call the organisational and IT changes that are under way the rise of “Anywhere Operations”, and I’m pleased to say this is one trend where SoftIron was already ahead of the curve.

If I had to pick four macro trends that I think will shape our industry in the next 12 months, it would be these:

Trend One: More Data-Generating Devices, In More Places

Industry 4.0, AI, IoT and automation – the “rise of the machines” is no longer just a middling Terminator movie, but a reality starting to be played out across the globe. With it we are seeing a sharp rise in data generation, storage and use in places where it previously didn’t exist. The increased prevalence of data generating and data capitalizing devices in “untraditional” environments will drive focus on edge-to-core (and back again) data orchestration. Whether it’s industry, with machines and sensors generating data on factory floors, or the desire to create richer user experiences through the interaction of 5G enabled devices, enterprises will need to decide how they will support their data’s operational needs. For some, this data will reside exclusively in the cloud. For many more however we expect to see hybrid or fully on-prem “edge” data centers start to spring up in a myriad of locations to handle the data flow. These locations won;t have hyperscale power and cooling, they very likely won’t have a team of highly trained IT specialists on site. The infrastructure will need to be performant yet efficient, be environmentally and operationally resilient and be “remote first” in its operation and maintenance. Indeed, “on the ground” skills required will need to be IT generalist rather than specialist in nature.

Trend Two: COVID Pushing Us To The Edge

I think one way or another, COVID is pushing many of us to the edge psychologically, but it is also true for how it is reshaping IT architecture. Edge computing was, of course, already gaining momentum before 2020, but the pandemic has accelerated this by changing where the data is created and used, further pushing it to the edge. At the same time, it’s not just the general staff that are increasingly working remotely. IT staff too are, and will be in the future, increasingly going to be remote from the data center. With fewer workers on the data center floor, there is a greater emphasis and reliance on regional data infrastructure coupled with the need for greater simplicity and resilience (as fewer skilled operatives are close by).

Trend Three: Enterprise-Class Open Source Accelerates

Open source is already deployed to a greater or lesser extent in the majority of enterprise organizations. As they examine their long term infrastructure (and related security) needs, I believe we’ll see an increasing appetite for (and broad scale adoption of) enterprise-class open source infrastructure standards. With hard pressed CIOs faced with issues around data growth, vendor lock-in, supply chain security, and long-term scaling, I think we’ll increasingly see them consider how open source solutions can give them a better handle on these challenges.

At the core of the issue is empowerment, as organizations increasingly deploy open source solutions to shift the buying power and control back into their own favor. But “off the shelf open source” can be a complex proposition, especially when it comes to legacy integration, predictability of performance and remote operations. I think we’ll see an increasing number of organizations seek out partners who can simplify open source deployment while enhancing resiliency – helping them tip control back into their favor.

Trend Four: Sovereign Resilience

Security challenges never go away and never seemingly decrease. The SolarWinds software supply chain attack however, has signalled a shift in many quarters to a conversation to the current opaque nature of IT supply chains (and the consequent dangers).

Related but not quite the same issue, many nations around the globe are also making significant strides to consider ways to decrease their reliance on foreign nations for critical infrastructure. We expect to see more national policy shifts towards supporting more independent IT supply chains, such as those that have already begun in Australia and India, and which were introduced in the US early in the Biden presidency.

With strong, accessible incentives in place to decentralize global research and manufacturing facilities, we’ll start to see an influx of nationally and regionally-oriented technology businesses, supported by their governments, competing with multinational corporations.

Of course, these are just four trends in what is likely to be another rollercoaster of a year. What makes your list? Reach out and let me know.