6 trends that will affect IT infrastructure and operations in 2021

The shift to remote work will require organizations to set up more flexible and less centralized operations, says Gartner.

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced a transition to a remote workforce much quicker and more abruptly than would otherwise have occurred. This shift has impacted and will impact organizations in many ways, from security strategies to resource availability to infrastructure and operations. A new forecast from research firm Gartner looks at six trends that infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders should start preparing for in the next 12-18 months.

SEE: Gartner's top tech predictions for 2021 (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

Presenting the findings at the Gartner IT Infrastructure, Operations & Cloud Strategies virtual conference on Monday, Gartner research vice president Jeffrey Hewitt offered recommendations on how to respond in a post-pandemic environment.

"The coronavirus pandemic has forced IT executives to adapt their operations to address increased work-from-home scenarios and unpredictable changes to IT requirements," Hewitt said.

"Yet, COVID-19 isn't the only impetus for the majority of I&O staff to work from home moving forward. The nature of infrastructure is evolving to the point where remote I&O teams make sense to support new scenarios, use cases, and technologies."

Trend No. 1: Anywhere operations

Gartner anticipates that 48% of employees will continue to work from home, even after the coronavirus pandemic, compared with 30% pre-pandemic. That will force IT executives to develop flexible and resilient organizations that will enable their staff to work from anywhere, give customers everywhere access to services, and manage the deployment of business services across distributed infrastructures.

"The traditional, structured processes within I&O made organizations fragile when it comes to the flexibility of location," Hewitt said. "Anywhere operations enable organizations to decentralize staff and activate operations where it makes business sense. It even makes way for broader talent choices as organizations do not need to necessarily recruit staff in a specific geography."

Trend No. 2: Optimal infrastructure

Optimal infrastructure will involve data center and edge infrastructure, which can be difficult to measure and can lead to complex deployments. Organizations should take a business viewpoint and look at how to optimize costs and how to use the right tools to build their case for a given infrastructure deployment.

"The key for anywhere operations is developing programmable infrastructure that enables the right work in the right place at the right time—this is the crux of optimal infrastructure," Hewitt said. "As infrastructure and operations evolves into integration and operations, various solutions such as hyperconverged infrastructure or computational storage must be matched with the optimal use case."

Trend No. 3: Operational continuity

Workloads will increasingly need to support geographically dispersed customers and employees. As a result, IT services must be continuous regardless of external factors, providing automated deployments and minimal-touch maintenance. By 2025, 60% of organizations will use automation tools to deploy new compute resources, reduce deployment time, and deliver greater agility.

"When done correctly, this trend increases efficiencies and allows for faster workload deployment," Hewitt said. "The main downside is the learning curve that comes with using new and sometimes complex tools or processes that support continuity."

Trend No. 4: Core modernization

To make sure that enterprise infrastructure evolves in lockstep, maintaining core operations should be viewed as an ongoing process and not a one-time project. Enterprises will need to coordinate infrastructures on- and off-premises that minimize legacy drag.

"The upside of modernizing infrastructure is that it lowers technical debt and paves the way for agile infrastructure to respond to the growing list of digital business requirements," Hewitt said. "Enterprises must implement a modernization plan with a realistic timeline, one which accounts for shifting skill requirements."

Trend No. 5: Distributed cloud

Another major need will be to distribute cloud resources so that the cloud becomes decentralized and the burden of support shifts to cloud service providers. This approach will enable flexible location and result in latency reduction.

"Since the distributed cloud market is currently immature, costs can be high and deployment models complex," Hewitt said. "Organizations should still have it on their horizon as a part of the future of cloud computing since most cloud service platforms will provide at least some distributed cloud services that execute at the point of need over the next four years."

Trend No. 6: Critical skills versus critical roles

By 2022, I&O leaders should expect to plan for at least 12 high-priority skills in their organizations. Leaders should hire for these skills now while the IT talent market remains a buyer's market. But I&O leaders should also consider the fundamental culture changes this trend will bring and plan accordingly.

"I&O skills requirements will continue to evolve as organizations adapt to new business environments," Hewitt said. "Specifically, there is a shift in focus from infrastructure roles toward collective, critical skills. This challenges the traditional 'territorial' thinking of belonging to a specific infrastructure team and instead encourages collaboration."

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