Predicting the future of tech is astonishingly hard. Human foresight is derailed by a host of cognitive biases that lead us to overreact to an exciting development or completely miss what in hindsight seems obvious (like these tech titans who scoffed at the iPhone’s introduction).
We still love to try our hands at prognosticating though—especially on trends and issues that hit close to home.
That’s why INAP surveyed 500 IT leaders and infrastructure managers about the near-term future of their profession and the industry landscape. Participants were asked to agree or disagree with the likelihood of eight predictions becoming reality by 2025.
The representative survey was conducted in U.S. and Canada among businesses with more than 100 employees and has a margin of error of +/- 5 percent.
Check out the results below, as well as some color commentary from INAP’s data center, cloud and network experts.
“For the most basic of tasks, technology advancements like AI, Machine Learning, workflow management and others are quickly rising to a place of ‘hands off’ for those currently managing these tasks,” said TJ Waldorf, CMO and Head of Inside Sales and Customer Success at INAP. “In five years, we’ll see the pace of these advancements increase and the value seen by IT leaders also increase.”
It’s difficult to say how many of data center and network advancements will truly be driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning as opposed to already-proven software defined automation. The market for technologies like AIOPs (Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations) is still nascent, despite rising interest. Regardless of their source, automation developments will benefit infrastructure and operations professionals, according to Waldorf.
“The reality is that these developments will give them time back to spend more time on business driving, revenue accelerating tasks,” he said. “The more we safely automate, the less risk of human caused errors which top the list of problems in the data center.”
Workloads are leaving on-prem data centers for cloud and colocation at an incredible rate. In a study published late last year, we found that infrastructure managers anticipate a 38 percent reduction in on-premise workloads by 2022, driven by a need for greater network performance, application scalability and data center resiliency.
Interestingly, 48 percent of non-senior infrastructure managers surveyed disagree with the prediction. INAP’s Josh Williams, Vice President of Channel and Solutions Engineering, thinks this group will likely prove right, despite the current migration trends.
“Virtually non-existent is a bit of an overstatement,” said Williams. “The majority of workloads are still on prem today and it’s unlikely ‘virtually’ all of them will make it out for a variety of reasons. However, the trend is unmistakable: IT practitioners are abandoning data center management in huge numbers to help their applications perform and scale and allow them to focus on more than just keeping the lights on.”
The introduction of AWS Lambda in 2014 made waves for its promise of deploying apps without any consideration to resource provisioning or server management. Adoption for serverless is growing, and as Microsoft and Google continue to develop their Amazon alternatives, we can expect more even organizations to test it out.
Notably, 43 percent of non-senior infrastructure managers disagree with this statement. INAP’s Jennifer Curry, Senior Vice President of Global Cloud Services, agrees with them:
“Serverless models have compelling use cases for ‘born in the cloud’ apps that have sporadic resource usage,” she said. “The tech, however, has a very long way to go before it’s the environment best suited for most workloads. The economics and performance calculus will favor other IaaS models for the foreseeable future, specifically for steady-state workloads and applications that require visibility for security and compliance.”
Curry also notes that serverless is still a new and somewhat nebulous term that’s often misused as a synonym for any cloud or IaaS service, which could be skewing the optimism. Most public cloud usage still involves compute and storage services that require time-intensive, hands on monitoring and resource management.
“We’re already in a multicloud world,” said Curry, noting surveys that suggest wide-spread adoption at the enterprise level. “The more interesting question to me is: How many enterprises have a coherent multicloud strategy? Deploying in multiple environments is easy. Adopting a management and monitoring apparatus that mitigates vulnerabilities, ensures peak performance, and optimizes costs across infrastructure platforms is a challenge many enterprises struggle with.”
Outside of small businesses (who were not polled in this survey), INAP experts didn’t see a much of case for ‘disagree’ here. A certain percentage of businesses may attempt to achieve efficiencies by going all in on a single platform, but issues with lock-in and performance will likely deter that. Add SaaS platforms to your definition of multicloud, which our experts believe you should, and it’s hard to see anything but a multicloud world by 2025.
“Depending on your definition of edge networking, this prediction is already on its way to being true,” said Williams. “An edge networking strategy is about reaching customers and end-users as quickly as possible. Whether it is achieved through geographically distributed cloud, CDN or network route optimizations, cutting latency will be a pre-requisite for the success of any mission-critical application.”
Waldorf echoes the notion that most companies will pursue latency-reduction in the coming years but suggests that just like the introduction of cloud in the mid-2000s, a full embrace of “edge” as an established concept may take longer.
“Edge use cases are still evolving,” he said. “The idea has been around a lot longer, but in the context of today’s IT landscape it’s only recently become something more leaders are starting to research and think about why it matters to them.”
Cybersecurity is among the most pressing challenges faced day in, day out, according to IT pros, and this is unlikely to change as attacks grow more intense and unpredictable. CSOs and CISOs are key to staying one step ahead of vulnerabilities and require the authority to make necessary investments.
“It makes sense IT pros would largely agree with this proposition, as security leaders, along with CIOs, will be responsible for managing extreme amounts of risk critical to revenue,” said Williams. “The issue with this prediction, however, is that the CSO’s role is typically only widely visible when things go very wrong. So it’s unlikely stakeholders internally or externally will view them second to the CEO, whether or not the distinction is deserved.”
In a 2018 survey, nearly 90 percent of IT infrastructure managers said they want to take a leading role in their company’s digital transformation initiatives. And that makes perfect sense. The success of any digital product or service ultimately depends just as much on its infrastructure performance as its coding, design and marketing. Integrating infrastructure operations with product teams could accelerate that goal.
Curry thinks integration may be the wrong goal, and that IT can grow its influence within organizations and lead digital transformation through stronger partnerships.
“IT teams will have more success focusing on alignment with product teams, as opposed to pursuing complex reorganizations,” said Curry. “Senior IT leadership will still need to make a strong case as to why they need to be at the table earlier rather than later in the product development lifecycle. We’re seeing many of our most successful customers achieve alignment, but it’s a process that can take time and patience.”
New tools and platforms can be implemented without changing the overall function of IT—e.g., infrastructure deployments and application delivery, preventing downtime, supporting end-users, etc.
With the decline of on-premise data centers and the rise of multicloud and hybrid platforms, the function of IT will inevitably evolve. As IT pros spend less time on routine infrastructure upkeep and maintenance, more time can be allocated to projects that drive innovation and efficiency. In INAP’s recent State of IT Infrastructure Management report, we got a preview of how IT teams would spend that time.