The IT environment is growing more complex all the time. As enterprises become increasingly dependent on digital technologies to manage every aspect of their business, this puts greater pressure on essential infrastructure to keep up with the rapidly-evolving demands being placed on it.
Large-scale trends such as the move to cloud computing and the rise of automation have led to many new challenges for infrastructure management. But these will have knock-on effects through the business, which IT analyst firm Gartner refers to as 'cascade effects' that must be dealt with by infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders.
Indeed, today's operations are increasingly focused around hybrid IT environments, where processing is no longer limited to the data center, but also takes place at the edge of the network, as well as the cloud.
So what key trends within this area will IT leaders have to be keeping a particularly close eye on through the coming months and years? Here are a few that should be at the top of any enterprise's list of priorities.
1. The potential of AI
While artificial intelligence (AI) has been around a while, it's only in the last couple of years that it's become accessible to everyone, thanks to advances in processing power and cloud technology. Most AI processing takes place in the cloud, and as such, business will have to have clear plans in place for how they connect quickly and reliably to these services.
However, this may not be good enough for real-time applications where even slight latency could prove costly. As a result, organisations will be increasingly turning to technology like hyperconverged infrastructure in order to make the most of AI's potential.
2. The interconnectedness of IoT
The Internet of Things (IoT) is another major trend that's set to change the way IT operates in the coming years, giving businesses access to vast amounts of data that can be used to gain insight into a firm's operations and the wider environment.
But the addition of large numbers of low-power, specialized devices to a network will create huge complexity. Gartner notes that the "transformative and far-reaching nature" of these technologies means that it will be essential for businesses to plan rollouts carefully and identify which team is responsible for each device, and the I&O team will have a key role to play in this.
3. Leveraging edge computing
Both of the above trends will put more pressure than ever on IT infrastructure to process data quickly and accurately, and this will in turn lead many companies to make greater use of edge computing. Gartner estimates that by 2025, three-quarters of data will be processed outside the data center or cloud - up from less than 10% in 2018.
Processing data at the point of creation will be essential not only in reducing the time taken to generate useful insight, but also in cutting down on the bandwidth needed to transport data over long distances to be processed at central data centers.
4. Distributed cloud
With these moves away from traditional data centers and towards the cloud, a new approach will be required to ensure that this wide range of services and systems are easily accessible from anywhere, while still being managed from a central location. And this will give rise to a new way of thinking about these services; distributed cloud.
Distributed cloud will ensure that public cloud services can always be available in any geographic location, while the provider retains responsibility for the operation, governance and upgrading of the services. However, this technology is still in its relative infancy, so I&O professionals must take care to look beyond the hype to determine if this is the right approach for their needs.
5. The end of the data center
A key theme running through all of these trends is that we’ll see operations bypass the traditional data center. As data becomes more widely distributed, infrastructure teams will need to assess the impact this will have on everything from how it will be viewed to what new security measures need to be put in place.
This will require a shift to a more data-driven approach to networking that includes rethinking where data is stored and processed based on business demands rather than technology considerations. This decentralization is likely to see legacy data centers themselves become slimmed down in the coming years. They're unlikely to disappear entirely, but the way businesses think about these assets will change, leading them to reduce their footprint as alternatives arise.