2018 Primer: The predictions that simply won't materialise

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As we start a new year, pundits from around the IT industry will offer up their predictions for 2018. But if history teaches us anything, it’s that 2018 will be known more for what doesn’t happen than for what does.  

So what major predictions are unlikely to materialise in 2018?

Intent-based networking will not dominate

Cisco made a splash this year when they co-opted an industry movement as their own. While the trend of abstracted control has been around since the early SDN days, it got a whole lot more attention this year as it was given a new name: Intent-based Networking.  

Intent-based Networking is basically the idea that operators ought to specify the behaviour they want, not the configuration they need. If intent can be inserted through a central control point, it can be translated into device-specific commands that are then propagated through the systems that make up the infrastructure. The central thesis is that the complexity of managing a heterogeneous environment ought to be handled by a management system rather than the operators.

There would seem to be little doubt that abstracted control is the future for any but the most diehard legacy lovers. So will 2018 mark the year that the world moves to Intent-based Networking?

In a word, doubtful. Gartner estimated that some 85 per cent of all interactions with the network were CLI-driven by end of year 2016. To believe that Intent-based Networking will dominate (meaning it outpaces traditional CLI), you’d have to believe that 40 per cent or more of operations moves that way over a two-year period.  

No way. The most powerful force in IT is inertia. Change represents risk—not just to the companies that champion it but to the people whose jobs currently ride on the CLIs to which they are loyal.  

Final verdict: Intent-based control will continue to grow, but it isn’t going to displace the CLI that fast. Ask this question again in 2019. And 2020 if you want to be realistic.  

SD-WAN will not be the market-maker the VCs hope

Depending on which market report you read last, you might think that SD-WAN is going to become a massive market, with some research analysts predicting an $8 billion market by the year 2021. With stakes that high, more than 35 companies have joined the SD-WAN feeding frenzy. And VCs have gotten into the action, largely betting on a round of consolidation as larger players gobble up the hot upstarts.  

The consolidation appears to have started this year, with both Cisco and VMware making high-profile acquisitions in the space. But is this just the beginning of a massive consolidation?

Unlikely. Even if you believed there were enough suitors to take on a meaningful number of the remaining 35 companies, the question is at what value? It seems much more likely that the acquisitions going forward will be value plays, with consolidation being more about thoughtful integration than splashy headlines. And this will likely leave a number of people disappointed. 

Don’t mistake this for predicting that SD-WAN will not be important in 2018. SD-WAN will persist as an important technology in the evolution of branch connectivity. But, much like SDN, the early acquisitions are unlikely to indicate a wave of massive consolidation. Rather, the technology appears to be headed towards an integral component more than a standalone offering. 

Final verdict: SD-WAN will continue to play a role in disrupting the branch, but the hallmarks of cloud management and hybrid WAN appear to be table-stakes features unlikely to spur the money-making rounds of consolidation that many predict. 

AWS will not declare victory in the cloud wars

It is undeniable that AWS is growing tremendously. They reported Q3’17 revenue of $4.57 billion, which is more than an $18 billion annual run rate. And with more and more enterprises moving at least some of their workloads to public cloud infrastructure, there would appear to be enough demand to keep the rocket ship growing. 

But they aren’t the only ones benefitting from the explosion in cloud workloads. While growing off a smaller base, Microsoft and Google are each growing at better than 70 per cent year-over-year. That’s not to say that AWS is in any danger of giving up their leadership position anytime soon, but it does mean that the game is not quite over yet.

In fact, while most companies dip their toes into the proverbial public cloud waters by engaging with a single cloud provider, it seems likely that cloud providers will ultimately be treated in the same way that other suppliers are. That is to say that large enterprises interested in maintaining supplier leverage will be best served by adopting a multicloud infrastructure. 

If the future is multicloud, then it’s not simply a fight for first business. In fact, the most interesting cloud battles might be between those waging war to be a strong second supplier. And in these wars, the outcome is anything but certain. 

Final verdict: AWS would appear to have a safe lead, but the pie is plenty big enough to support other players, and a multicloud future will all but guarantee that an outright victory will be delayed by at least a few years.

Michael Bushong, Senior Director of Strategic Marketing, Juniper Networks
Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock