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Gartner: COVID-era infrastructure trends you should know about

News Analysis
Oct 21, 20206 mins
CareersCloud ComputingData Center

A remote IT workforce, distributed cloud services, and core modernization efforts are driving changes in enterprise infrastructure and operations teams.

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COVID-19 has turned the world inside out, and the impact on infrastructure and operations teams is significant.

That’s the conclusion of Gartner research vice president Jeffrey Hewitt, who detailed the core infrastructure trends that IT executives can expect to see in the next 12-18 months. Hewitt shared the research at Gartner’s IT Symposium/Xpo 2020 Americas event, which is being held virtually this week. (Related story: Gartner’s top 9 strategic technology trends for 2021)

“The situations created by COVID-19 have had a significant impact on the world,” Hewitt said. “This impact is having an influence on almost all of the trends that infrastructure and operations leaders will be facing going forward.”

One significant change is remote IT staff. Gartner is forecasting that by the end of 2023, more than 90% of I&O organizations will have most of their staff working remotely, Hewitt said. The remote I&O workforce is being driven not only by the pandemic but also by changes to infrastructure and the move to edge and distributed cloud networking, Hewitt said.

The major trends Gartner identified look like this:

Anywhere operations

Remote working makes it imperative that the infrastructure be flexible. Traditional methods of very structured processes have been blown up, and now we know we need to plan to work remotely, Hewitt said. He cited Pinterest, which recently paid $89.5 million to break a lease on one of its largest buildings in San Francisco just so it could let most of the company’s employees work from anywhere.

“As we analyze how our workplace will change in a post-COVID world, we are specifically rethinking where future employees could be based,” said Pinterest’s CFO in a statement posted on the site. “A more distributed workforce will give us the opportunity to hire people from a wider range of backgrounds and experiences.”

Anywhere operations can put stress on the network that needs to coordinate and support those users, and it requires company management to think differently about building infrastructure, Hewitt said. At the same time, it enables more flexible and resilient organizations and provides broader talent choices because future employees are not limited to a certain location.

Organizations need to determine where remote working makes sense, Hewitt said. It will require companies to develop plans to enable working at required locations as well as remotely. Look to edge and cloud computing to address specific needs, Hewitt said. In addition, Hewitt suggested companies create a cost-benefit view of current infrastructure choices and utilize cost-optimization tools to help build business cases for change.

Optimal infrastructure

Infrastructure options have expanded to include alternatives such as hyperconverged infrastructure, cloud resources, and computational storage. Enterprises are looking to support the technologies that are the right fit for the current place and time, Hewitt said. 

This strategy changes the role of infrastructure and operations to one of integration and operation, he said. The idea is to put the resources where you need them most, which also helps align resources with business objectives, Hewitt said.

Operational continuity

This trend is about keeping things running. IT executives are faced with making sure things work properly and continuously no matter what. They have to support applications no matter where they are. It’s kind of a return to an old-school way of thinking: lights-out operations or management, Hewitt said. Gartner has noticed an increase in the use of automation in many locations with zero-touch maintenance, he said.

As an example, Hewitt pointed to Microsoft’s underwater data center concept, which involves shipping-container-sized data centers that the company says can “provide lightning-quick cloud services to coastal populations and save energy.” The self-contained underwater data centers had 1/8th of the failure rate as those on land.

That’s just an example of how effective low-touch maintenance can be, Hewitt said. 

Using automation for faster workload deployment and reduced costs is a key attribute of operational continuity. On the downside, operational continuity requires new tools and processes, and it can increase complexity, Hewitt said.

Core modernization

Organizations are doing more to modernize the core and to coordinate on-premises and off-premises systems. It’s an effort to minimize the drag that organizations feel from legacy systems. Gartner expects core modernization to be an ongoing trend because it helps infrastructures evolve in lockstep and become more flexible and agile. Gartner recommends I/O professionals work with application leaders to identify the big impact areas and modernization priorities.

Distributed cloud

Gartner defines distributed cloud as taking resources from the cloud and moving them out to the edge or to a data center – it’s a shift of cloud resources that decentralizes the cloud, Hewitt said. This enables flexible physical location of public cloud resources and shifts the support burden from the enterprise to the cloud service provider.

There are a number of models to implement distributed cloud, so customers need to look for an optimal service, Hewitt said. Distributed cloud can improve infrastructure performance in specific locations, and it offers no-touch options.

When looking at distributed cloud, Gartner recommends that enterprises identify the appropriate use cases; evaluate the impact of introducing new portals, monitoring, tools and processes; plan for hybrid integration from existing environments; and identify whether you need an appliance-based or a software-only solution.

Critical skills vs. critical roles

This trend ties all the others together, Hewitt said.

Skills requirements are changing due to the evolving infrastructure and operations trends, Hewitt said. One of the biggest changes is a move from the old-school way of developing specific roles, where one person has all the expertise in a particular area, to an emphasis on collective skills. The idea is that you minimize the risk: If one person leaves the operation, you don’t lose all of those skills because they are distributed.

The idea of collective skills moves away from territorial thinking and encourages a more collaborative business, Hewitt said. Hiring to support these skillsets will require a shift in corporate recruitment focus to one that includes more business acumen. One of the new things HR departments are looking for in recruits is “indistractibility” – the ability to handle confusion and distractions, especially for those people working remotely, Hewitt said.