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The technology predictions you need to know for 2021

Time to gaze ahead. Marius Sandbu shares his technology predictions for 2021.

Marius Sandbu / January 15, 2021

The other day, I was working with a customer who was in the process of planning their IT-strategy for 2021, when they asked me two big questions: “What should we focus on in 2021?” and “What do you see in your crystal ball about where technology is taking us in 2021?”

This moment made me reflect a bit on what is going on in the market and the future of technology in the year ahead. I also started looking back at what vendors have been working on in the last year, which provides a bit of insight about where they want to take us as customers.

So what do I see? Well, from a technology standpoint, organizations are moving in many directions, so I want to highlight some of the key trends. Of course, many are already far ahead in the areas below, but many haven’t even started.

1 Modern workplace allows employees to efficiently work from anywhere

In 2020, a lot of organizations were plagued by ransomware attacks, vulnerabilities and the WFH shift specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of these have pushed organizations to think differently about, first, how to provide employees with remote access to services and, second, how they should manage staff.

In 2021, more organizations will likely shift to modern workplaces where devices are internet managed, using Azure AD and cloud-based services to provide access for their employees to work from anywhere on any device. Importantly, this requires changes to the way organizations deliver applications – they need a web-based approach instead of a traditional Windows-based delivery model.

More and more services are moving towards using OAuth or SAML, which are both supported directly by Azure Active Directory, and organizations should assess the ability of end-users to access their applications in a simple and secure way.

2 Software-defined data centers provide ease of management and simplify scalability

While COVID has driven many companies to use Public Cloud solutions to scale their services properly, quite a few also invested in Private Clouds to provide even better scalability and self-healing data centers.

Microsoft is, of course, investing in more software-defined or hyperconverged infrastructure with their new offering Azure Stack HCI, but Nutanix and VMware still remain far ahead. Both provide software-defined storage and networking services in combination with a wide range of automation possibilities and even public cloud integrations.

In 2021, more organizations should shift from a 3-tier architecture to software-defined solutions in order to provide better ease-of-management, facilitate scale-out and enable more automation possibilities.

3 Zero-Trust based security architecture reduces the risk of ransomware attacks

As mentioned, 2020 revealed an unprecedented level of (high risk) vulnerabilities from many of the largest security vendors in the market, including a high level of ransomware attacks, which are still exploiting legacy protocols and services such as SMB and Active Directory. Often, these attacks started at the endpoint either using drive-by download or phishing attacks.

Many security vendors are responding by pushing solutions that use a “Zero-Trust” approach, where a device or a user doesn’t have access to anything before its risk level is evaluated. That can be done by collecting risk information from the user, device and/or action.

In 2021, more organizations should shift to a zero-trust based security architecture to limit these ransomware attacks and to better support the transition to a modern workplace.

4 Multi-Cloud and Cloud Native

As widely predicted, many companies have been moving to multi public cloud ecosystems, where organizations can use services from many public cloud vendors. This can put a lot of strain on organizations, in terms of people, processes and technology. At the same time, such combinations of services can be used to provide the best ecosystems.

Product vendors are also creating their own products to support “multi-cloud” ecosystems aimed at security, monitoring and automation. However, most of these products are not 100% compatible with any single cloud provider, so customers that use multi-cloud products lose access to recent innovations.

I hope that organizations focus on maintaining and managing each cloud as its own ecosystem in 2021, instead of using so-called multi-cloud products.

(NOTE: Some multi-cloud tooling does make sense, like using automation tools like Pulumi or Terraform.)

5 New Hybrid Services and Edge Cloud offerings

One increasing trend is that the big cloud providers like Azure, Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services are investing heavily in providing cloud services either through edge computing or within customer data centers. This means more and more standard services that can replace other third-party services.

For example, AWS Outposts provides a full rack of AWS managed servers in combination with AWS services such as S3 through edge computing. (I’m confident this will be able to compete with other storage vendors in the market and also provide better ease of management.) Then, we also have PaaS offerings such as Amazon RDS, Azure Arc and Google Anthos.

In 2021, we will likely see more of these services becoming available to customers and an increase in customer adoption of these services where it makes sense.

6 Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) can optimize customer networks

More employees are working from home to access services, and offices are becoming more loosely defined because work can happen anywhere. Combined with the adoption of cloud-based services, these factors have required an organization to change how their networks function and how employees access services securely.

This is where Secure Access Service Edge comes in. SASE essentially describes providing both security and optimization of the network. There are already many vendors claiming to provide a SASE product stack, often as a product suite consisting of 4 main components:

  • Cloud Access Security Broker
  • Secure Web Gateway
  • Zero-Trust Network Access
  • Firewall as a service

SASE is also a key part of a zero-trust based network in combination with adopting SaaS-based cloud services and a modern workplace. In recent years, many traditional network vendors have acquired SD-WAN vendors. To enhance their capabilities, Aruba acquired Silver Peak and VMware acquired VeloCloud, and both are continuing to filling gaps to provide SASE-based product offerings.

While many organizations will likely adopt similar SASE portfolios to optimize and secure their services, I hope customers will spend time evaluating the different vendors in the market. This is especially important as many vendors are now just name dropping SASE in marketing slides, so make sure you are considering the right vendor (or combination of vendors).

7 AIOps introduced into Operations

I’ve previously written about AIOps and how you can see it as a way to achieve more optimized operations. The adoption of cloud services makes service more dispersed, which leaves you more vulnerable to outages. Thus, your cloud services can fail because of dependencies on your ISP, Network, Cloud Provider or application stack. In 2021, many organizations are expected to enhance their monitoring capabilities with AIOps (or ML) based enhancements to their operations to act as “noise” filters and to simplify finding the root cause of service failures.

We will also likely see an increase in AIOps tooling (or vendors claming to do AIOps), and most organizations should be considering where to put the AIOps functionality – on the monitoring side, as part of the ITSM product stack or in between?

8 Automation for everyone

In recent years, there has been much work done with typical RPA tooling like Blue Prism and UIPath (and others) with all cloud vendors now adding no-code / low-code capabilities into their portfolio with services such as AWS Honeycode, Azure Power Automate, Microsoft Flow and Google Cloud AppSheet.

There has also been the introduction of many new third-party platforms that provide most employees with the ability to create their own automation runbooks or workflows using this built-in functionality. These solutions still leave much of the heavy lifting to be done with RPA tooling (or as an addition of existing workflows)

In 2021, these types of ecosystems/services should be introduced into organizations in order to enable employees to focus on building automation instead of leaving that to be done by an RPA team. In short, more organizations should benefit from employees automating their own workflows.

Working with technology is a never-ending race to keep track of all the changes, technology trends and products that are being released. Let's continue the discussion in LinkedIn, feel free to connect. 

You might also be interested in watching this panel discussion on digital transformation:

Emerging technologies invite us all to rethink our ways of working. Volvo Trucks and the City of Helsingborg are brave forerunners seeking digital advantages.

Watch now: Time to take full advantage of all things virtual


Marius Sandbu
Tietoevry alumni
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