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The state of IT operations: 10 trends to watch

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John P. Mello Jr., Freelance writer

Information technology departments are evolving beyond just managing hardware and software and "keeping the lights on." IT decisions can have a significant impact across the business, affecting customers, employees, and even company culture. That's why IT pros need to keep pace with developing trends.

TechBeacon talked with more than a half-dozen IT experts to get their thoughts on the major trends in IT Ops. From implementing AIOps to dealing with cloud complexity, here are 10 developments your team should watch in the next 12 months.

[ Get up to speed on IT operations monitoring advances and best practices in TechBeacon’s guide. Plus: Download Gartner’s Strategic Roadmap for IT Operations Monitoring. ]

1. Services will continue to gain importance for IT operations over hardware and software

Hardware and software platforms that claim to accomplish the goals of IT operations are a dime a dozen, said Sairam Bollapragada, head of the Global Delivery Center at Micro Focus. "However, every IT component that fuels the business of an organization needs to solidly support services. If IT services fail, there is no point in having the most sophisticated platforms and tools."

"The quality of IT services has a cascading effect on a business's applications, so services have become a critical part of IT operations."
Sairam Bollapragada

Patterns of security deployment are also contributing to the increased importance of services. "With security solutions becoming a hybrid of on-premises and cloud-based network deployments, service has increased in value," said Heather Paunet, vice president of product management for the network security firm Untangle.

Services can also bolster customer loyalty.

"Providing services that can meet a business where they are currently and provide a scalable path during growth are key to securing and building customer loyalty."
Heather Paunet

2. AI will change IT operations through automation

Automated machine learning will be used to solve complex problems. In addition, greater integration of industrial IoT with AI will enable early detection of problems in machinery and provide data for predictive analysis and for relieving network traffic congestion.

AI can also be used to simplify recovery from disasters by automatically rebooting servers after a system crash, and improve utilization by moving workloads in the background, without human intervention, to underutilized servers in a network, said David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer for Deloitte Consulting.

"AIOps is truly trying to make operational systems think."
David Linthicum

AI has the power and capability to change the way business is done today, said Micro Focus' Bollapragada.

AI will also affect IT's security posture. "Using artificial intelligence to scan and analyze threats, malware types, and activities can transition IT operations from being reactive to proactive with network security," noted Untangle's Paunet.

Ciaran Byrne, vice president of product strategy at the AIOps platform company OpsRamp, said that the set of use cases related to AI and machine learning will become more prevalent across the IT operations landscape in the coming year.

Byrne identified two important drivers behind AIOps: the growing amount of data organizations must process to stay in business, and the increasing complexity of operating environments.

"AI and machine learning may not only be the best way to manage large volumes of data; it may the only way to do it."
Ciaran Byrne

[ Learn how to transform your IT with AIOps in TechBeacon's guide. Plus: Download the analyst paper on how AI is changing the role of IT. ]

3. As the pace of security breaches accelerates, security automation will be a clear winner

"As spending on cybersecurity moves northward, adoption of AI mitigation will grow," Bollapragada said.

He added that the need for continuous network monitoring and incident resolution will increase as the 5G space expands, since those devices will connect directly to the network and open up opportunities for more attacks.

Thomas Hatch, co-founder and CTO of the IT automation software company SaltStack, said that without automated security remediation, existing security gaps will only widen.

"This type of automation emerged in 2019 but will begin to be a real game-changer in 2020."
Thomas Hatch

4. Operational complexity will be reduced to improve cloud migration and digital transformation

"People are running into operational complexity that's stymieing movement into the cloud and modernization of applications. That's going to be a larger focus in 2020," said Deloitte's Linthicum.

Organizations will be looking for tools that can hide complexity behind common layers. That means a common way of dealing with security, governance, storage, and compute.

"We need to extract ourselves from native features of on-premises or cloud systems and deal with complex systems in more realistic ways. That removes complexity by removing the need to deal with native interfaces every step of the way."
—David Linthicum

5. Data security platforms that simplify protection and privacy will emerge this year

Up until now, regulatory requirements have been met by mixing products from different vendors. This is becoming increasingly problematic as security portfolios become increasingly complex while the skilled professionals to manage those portfolios are becoming scarcer.

The market is asking for simplification and ease of operations, said Jonathan Deveaux, head of enterprise data protection at comforte AG. 

"[We] will see that the convergence of protection methods like tokenization, format-preserving encryption, and data masking onto single data security platforms will receive much attention in 2020.”
Jonathan Deveaux

6. Demands for responsiveness and cost control will drive mesh architectures and edge computing

Technologies such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will multiply the use case options for edge computing, Bollapragada said.

Scaling edge systems may also be easier in the coming months through use of the cloud. "Replicas of edge devices can be maintained in the cloud," Linthicum explained. "As that replicant is maintained in the cloud, those changes can be transmitted to the edge device. That allows the edge system to be managed centrally, as if it were a cloud-based system."

Blockchain could also contribute to greater adoption of edge computing. "Edge computing trends seem to come and go," said SaltStack's Hatch. He said that a more foundational technology needs to be in place for distributed edge networks to take hold.

"This is one of the few areas where I think that blockchain research has the potential to drive new innovation on the edge. I hope this is the year that it finally becomes a reality."
—Thomas Hatch

Adding greater compute capabilities at the edge could also drive greater adoption, but that that may take longer than a year to pick up steam. "Will more computation take place at the edge? I think so," said OpsRamp's Byrne. "But will it be a major shift in 2020? I don't think so."

7. Managed service providers will choose among cloud providers to better meet customers' needs

Most businesses stick to a single cloud provider. They get comfortable with how the provider operates, and they like the simplicity of a single monthly bill.

However, Untangle's Paunet said that we are at the point now where there are multiple major established cloud platforms to choose from, "so while a customer may prefer to use one trusted cloud platform, we see MSPs evaluating their options."

"With their greater IT knowledge, MSPs can take the best from each of the cloud platforms so they can tailor the services they offer specifically to their customers' needs."
—Heather Paunet

Many organizations, though, are re-evaluating the one-provider approach to cloud services, said Sirish Raghuram, CEO of the managed hybrid cloud company Platform9. "They realize that they need an abstraction layer that allows them to use cloud technologies without being locked in to a single cloud provider," he said.

"Clearly, the momentum and growth in the Kubernetes community is happening because there's a belief that it's a better way to build applications using cloud technology, as opposed to locking yourself into one cloud," Raghuram said. "The rise and growth of Kubernetes is a sign that multi-cloud, private, and edge clouds are growing."

8. IT will gain control over the cloud through Kubernetes

Raghuram said that the cloud has empowered developers and largely left IT on the sidelines. That balance of power will change in 2020 with greater use of Kubernetes.

"As Kubernetes enters the production mainstream, it will give IT Ops more control and more of say in cloud operations than it has had in the last five years or so."
Sirish Raghuram

9. More mature organizations will turn to private clouds for financial reasons

For the most part, using a public cloud provider requires an operational expenditure. Much of a private cloud, however, can be financed as a capital expense. That means it can be paid off on a company's books over time, which can be beneficial to its bottom line.

That's possible now because the experience of a mature private cloud is very similar to the experience of a public cloud, said Micro Focus CTO Jerome Labat. "If you have a mature services management system in place and a mature IT organization that understands service delivery, they will be able to deliver private cloud resources on demand to a catalog of services with the right APIs that can serve your engineers the way a public cloud would."

He acknowledged, however, that that's only true for infrastructure. "That's not true for cloud-native services needed by cloud-native applications," he explained.

When you combine a private cloud with Kubernetes, a mature enterprise can reuse their existing infrastructure and stretch their ROI on the investment it made over the years in its private cloud, Labat said.

"The public cloud can cost a lot. If you don't have the right controls, if you don't have the right mechanism to understand your usage of the public cloud, you can have cost overruns very quickly that will hit you at the bottom line every day. If you're not a startup where you can lose $10 for every dollar you invest, you have to be very careful."
Jerome Labat

10. Data centers will continue to shrink, but they may also proliferate

As more workloads migrate to the cloud, data centers will be "right sized." They'll no longer be designed for peak capacity, but for a lower capacity, with the expectation that the cloud can handle excess demand. "Data centers will shrink until an equilibrium is reached, until their on-prem capacity gives them a hedge against a failure in the cloud and very high rate of utilization," said Platform9's Raghuram.

As traditional data centers shrink, new, even smaller data centers will emerge. Nano and micro data centers are starting to appear. They are more distributed and can address high demand in local areas. "There's not enough bandwidth in the world to carry all the data that's being produced, move it to a central cloud environment, process it there, and bring it back," Raghuram noted.

"It's taxing on the network. It's expensive, and the latency for the user is too high. Data centers are going to start mushrooming all over the place. These won't be your traditional enterprise data centers. They could be running in a cellphone tower, for instance, as was done to support Pokemon Go."
—Sirish Raghuram

Keeping the lights on is no longer king

Performance and availability used to be the benchmarks against which IT departments were measured, but in recent times, those "keeping the lights on" functions have taken a backseat to cloud migration. That will continue in 2020.

"Performance, availability, and uptime seem to be less of a focus to CIOs because of the pressure to be in the cloud, and to have an AI or ML solution," OpsRamp's Byrne said.

For old IT Ops hands, that can be disconcerting.

"In my many years in this space. Performance and availability were king. They were No. 1. But other pressures are impacting that."
—Ciaran Byrne

[ Enterprise Service Management brings innovation to the enterprise. Learn more in TechBeacon's new ESM guide. Plus: Get the 2019 Forrester Wave for ESM. ]