When F5 Networks was founded 20 years ago, the world was a very different place. In February 1996, Prime Minister John Major had another year to go in office, Oasis went to number 1 with ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ and Gareth Southgate was still known as a capable penalty taker.
The technology world seemed equally alien. Windows 95 had just become the world’s first proper consumer IT interface, while the Motorola StarTAC clamshell mobile launched, selling 60 million devices. Meanwhile, business applications were still massive software programs run in vast data centres, all to enable a relatively small number of people to work more effectively.
Our 2016 State of Application Delivery report highlights how much has changed in business IT. Applications are now the life blood of organisations - used to empower employees who access them from more locations and via more devices with every month that passes. As the results show, this trend is unlikely to slow anytime soon, bringing with it a number of new challenges for businesses and IT firms to overcome.
Application services are increasingly pervasive
Forty four per cent of EMEA businesses use over 200 application services across the company every day. The figure is only set to grow further; with 42 per cent of respondents listing mobile applications as a focus for IT spend in 2016. The investment in mobile applications also suggests IT decision makers are now truly embracing BYOD, allowing employees to use personal devices in the workplace, running business apps.
What is clear is that slow, unresponsive, and unsecured applications can have a substantial negative impact on revenue and operations, so although it is great to see businesses embracing application services, it is essential that they do so with a clear plan around usage, availability and data protection.
Hybrid Cloud is the new normal
Interestingly, the report found that 67 per cent of businesses estimate up to 50 per cent of applications will be hosted in the cloud by the end of 2016 – indicating firms are increasingly opting for a split of on-premises and cloud IT.
More generally, 30 per cent of EMEA organisations have a ‘cloud-first’ strategy – where cloud-based IT solutions are evaluated before making any new IT investments. This trend is likely driven by small and mid-sized firms, for whom a hybrid cloud environment delivers a greater level of flexibility and potential cost savings.
While the rise of an app-driven workforce has probably boosted efficiency and productivity, it has no doubt posed a number of challenges for firms, and IT teams in particular. To this end, the survey revealed that a substantial 59 per cent are not confident of resisting an app-level security attack. Considering the rise in corporate cyber security breaches (which reportedly doubled in 2015), and the damage these attacks caused to reputations and profits, this must be a major concern for c-suite execs across EMEA.
Encryption of data at rest (59 per cent) and encryption of live data (49 per cent) are listed as two of the top three most important factors in cloud service adoption, further emphasising the importance of security in the minds of IT decision makers. Meanwhile, end users - rather than data centres - are increasingly seen as the weakest link in firm’s security policies. Most respondents (22 per cent) said a lack of employee understanding provides the biggest security challenge in the next 12 months. A significant 18 per cent identified the increasing sophistication of attacks at the most significant issue.
In terms of solutions to address these concerns, network firewalls (84 per cent) and anti-virus technology (85 per cent) are the two most deployed security application services for EMEA firms. DDoS protection (57 per cent) appears surprisingly low down the list, considering the growth of such attacks in recent years.
Interestingly, while relatively low in terms of security apps already deployed, respondents listed DDoS protection as top of the priority list for security services likely to be outsourced in the next two years, perhaps reflecting concern for a form of cyber-attack which grew 180 per cent in the third quarter of 2015.
Looking at overall IT spend for 2016, mobile apps, private cloud and physical data centre consolidation are the three biggest drivers of IT solution spend in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, mobile apps, private cloud and SaaS are seen as the three most strategically important trends of the next 2-5 years.
The Internet of Things, heralded by many as a game-changer, listed in the bottom four (of twelve), suggesting many in the IT industry feel it will be a few years before the benefits of an IoT-enabled world can be effectively utilised by businesses.
Amid all this change, one outcome is clear: cloud-based application services will remain the link that enables IT organisations to respond to the requirements that are most vital to the business. Performance, security, and availability services ensure employee productivity – driving positive customer engagement and, ultimately, revenue growth.
Gary Newe, Technical Director, F5 Networks