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The digital infrastructure trends to watch out for in 2018

(Image credit: Image Credit: Montri Nipitvittaya / Shutterstock)

As we enter the new year, it’s a good time for taking stock and considering what the future will bring. Here we take a look at six of the most important trends that will influence digital infrastructure and impact all   organisations in 2018.   

Trend 1: Speed trumps cost 

In today’s world of digital disruption, every business perceives itself as being under threat, and, as a result, most are making a conscious decision to choose speed over cost. This is manifesting in some interesting behaviour shifts by enterprise IT leaders. 

In 2018, we’ll see them moving away from conducting lengthy, in-depth total cost of ownership analyses when making decisions about which technology to invest in, instead choosing the technology or platform that they can leverage the fastest. And, in their quest to deliver the speed that the business needs to drive digital transformation, IT leaders will intensify their efforts to identify and eliminate the inhibitors of speed. 

What’s holding you back? 

Increasingly, organisations will recognise the extent to which they depend on their networks to keep up with the speed of the cloud, and look for ways to ensure that their networks can perform at the same pace as their compute and storage environments. In the year ahead, we’ll also see more businesses exploiting software-defined networking and network virtualisation across the network in the data centre, hybrid WAN, and the campus as part of their efforts to transform their networks.    

In 2018, it will be important for organisations to identify the technologies and platforms that will deliver the business outcome they need, at the required speed. For example, instead of continuing to implement multiple tiers of legacy storage devices, some will conclude that they can move faster by only using flash storage. Many will look to invest in hyper-converged technologies in their on-premise infrastructure, as these may provide more agility and speed than the cloud. Organisations will need to make important decisions about the application models that they’re going to use, and select the most appropriate infrastructure to support them. Deciding on the right workload placement strategy will also be key.  

Balancing act 

Of course, all of these choices have to be made while taking into account the constraints that the organisation is subject to. For example, businesses will have to consider all the rules and regulations they need to comply with – their own corporate policies, industry rules, and data privacy laws. They’ll also need to factor in the location of their users.   

Ultimately, the challenge for organisations in 2018 will be to strike a balance between investment, technology, and governance rules, and their ability to execute at speed. 

Trend 2: Leveraging tools that support innovation and differentiation is critical 

The organisations that will achieve digital supremacy in 2018 will be those that capitalise on new tools that enable their developers to innovate and create new sources of competitive differentiation. Developers need access to new tools and the flexibility to create new business models. They have to be able to support new application types, using modern development and deployment tools, particularly in the area of containerisation.   

We’ve seen some disruptive moves in the container space over the last few months. Every major vendor has now embraced this technology. VMware and Google recently announced that they’ve teamed up to provide a Kubernetes service to clients that have their own data centres. Cisco has also moved into this space with Contiv 1.0, an open source container networking fabric for heterogeneous container deployments across virtual machines, bare-metal, and public or private clouds.  

These advancements have a significant impact on application portability and interoperability. Now developers can use containers to develop applications and move them into production across all the environments that make up their hybrid infrastructures. 

Considering the pace of innovation in containers, I predict that organisations that move aggressively to embrace these tools and make them available to their development teams in the year ahead, will be winners, and those that fail to act will see their competitive edge being eroded. 

Exploit the SaaS evolution   

Increasingly, we’ll see organisations that are successfully accelerating their digital transformation focusing on using SaaS for non-differentiating processes. This will allow them to reap the benefit of the continuous SaaS industry revolution, and the economies of scale and standardisation that these products afford them.    

Using SaaS to ensure that their non-core focus areas are running optimally will enable organisations to focus their resources on creating and evolving their differentiation capability elsewhere – for example in their manufacturing or CRM environments, or in the development of bespoke customer-facing applications. 

Trend 3: The rise of the API economy 

Increasingly, organisations are recognising the importance of APIs in enabling them to develop revenue-generating applications and services. This evolution has been dubbed ‘the rise of the API economy’. In 2018, I predict that organisations will start to see the wisdom in standardising on a set of APIs. We’ll see IT decision-makers move away from evaluating tools, technologies, and services purely on the basis of their features and the capabilities they enable. Now, the first questions they’ll ask will be: ‘Tell me about the APIs? What functions will they enable me to perform? How stable and secure are they and how consistently can I leverage them? And can I bring them to bear across a larger portion of my infrastructure?’ In fact, in many cases organisations will select their hyper-converged infrastructure on the basis the API’s maturity and availability and how easily it allows the organisation to implement the processes the business needs, rather than performance ─ increasingly, organisations are looking to exploit the software-driven nature of these environments. 

It’s all about abstraction 

In the year ahead, businesses will be challenged to keep up with the pace of change of APIs and ensure that they’re able to invest in programming around them, to drive the business outcomes that they’re looking for.    

The type and number of APIs that organisations select will depend on several factors, including the extent to which they want or need to abstract away the underlying technologies. Let’s consider the process of multi-cloud management as an example: A business using one or two clouds, say Microsoft Azure and AWS, will typically write natively to those clouds’ APIs. But for those using six or seven clouds, cloud management tools will seamlessly abstract away all the underlying clouds, leaving a business to interface with the tool’s API, not those of the individual clouds.   

Trend 4: Shift in focus from technologies to services architectures 

There’s a clear acceptance in the industry that hybrid IT is the model of the future. But hybrid IT has significant architectural implications, which organisations will need to address in the year ahead. Over the last decade, IT teams have focused much of their energies on technology integration and during this period there was a strong drive towards standardisation of technologies to make this more achievable. The advent of hybrid IT has changed the paradigm: mastering hybrid IT requires an organisation to focus not on technology integration but on services integration. Most organisations’ existing architectures were not built with this theme in mind.  

In 2018, in addition to investing in the appropriate APIs to enable abstraction, businesses will need to revisit their architectures and ensure that they’re fit-for-purpose and future-proof.   

Composition of services   

What’s important here is to determine which services must co-ordinate with others and how they all need work together to deliver the business outcome and a positive user experience. Attempting to bring together the different services components without first putting in place the appropriate architecture, runs the risk of delivering a poor, inconsistent user experience. And as the services start to become more complex, the ability to scale them and deliver with quality, is limited.    

Trend 5: Push to manage the business value of data

In 2018, there’ll be an intensified focus on exploiting the value of data, and ensuring it’s made available to those who need it, when they need it – a truly data-centric view of IT. Historically, IT teams focused on managing the cost of an organisation’s data. They’d move data from one tier of storage to another. As the value or the need to access certain sets of data diminished, they would be progressively moved to lower cost storage tiers.   

Today, there are two forces driving a shift in focus from cost to value. First, the advent of all-flash storage means that there’s less need for organisations to concern themselves with different storage types and tiers. In addition, today it’s possible to architect such that cost is not an issue, by moving to an all-flash option to make a business faster. 

What’s more important is the fact that as organisations transform into digital business, the role of data is taking on greater significance. Now, the emphasis is on finding new value in data – and being able to leverage the value of that data faster. This raises questions about where the data needs to be in order to extract that value, and what kind of analytics is needed.  

A good example is this year’s Tour de France (opens in new tab): here, data analytics incorporated machine learning and complex algorithms that combine live and historical race data, to provide deeper levels of insight during the 23-day event. Cycling fans were also able to understand more about environments and circumstances in which riders perform best. This is a good example of how the Internet of Things is enabling organisations to find new sources of data – and extract new value from it. 

Trend 6: Programmable infrastructure everywhere 

In recent years, developers’ focus has been on the level of computing requirements they anticipated would be needed. And it was only after the application had been developed that networking and security considerations were addressed. In addition, applications were run on inflexible infrastructure that was built at high cost to support peak load with all network and security services applied all the time.    

That’s all changed with the increasing adoption of software-defined infrastructure that can be programmed to become a more integral supporting element of the applications. Network and security services that enable data to be moved and protected can be provisioned to provide on-demand connectivity and security as applications flex, based on changes in business requirements. Infrastructure becomes a ‘living and breathing’ entity that enables the notion of digital business to become a reality. 

Networking and security addressed in the development phase 

Thanks to the advent of programmable data centre infrastructure, in 2018 we’ll see more organisations considering networking and security requirements in the development phase and programming their applications to take advantage of software-defined infrastructure.  

The technology will allow organisations to challenge their infrastructure status-quo and rethink basic principles using flexibility, programmability and software-defined as cornerstones. This technology transformation could be used as a lever to unlock operational transformation, and in some cases, financial transformation, through emerging IT consumption models.   

As we move into 2018, organisations must reconsider their digital infrastructure, ensuring that it is both fit for purpose and future-proof. After all, this is an essential element to enabling digital transformation and staying ahead of the curve as a business.    

Pete Hulme, Technical Lead for data centres at Dimension Data (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Montri Nipitvittaya / Shutterstock

Pete Hulme, technical lead for data centres at Dimension Data, has over 30 years’ experience in the IT industry and has been recognised as a leading innovator in the development of storage networking and distributed computing.