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Executive Viewpoint 2017 Prediction: SolarWinds – Containers, FaaS, and More Hybrid IT

Over the last year, the rate of change in the data center has maintained an exponential pace. 2016 brought us technology trends like software-defined-everything (which gave rise to the software-defined data center), automation, the growth of enterprise IoT and a greater focus on containerization and microservices. And while we’ve certainly seen the hybrid IT model gain significant traction as cloud heavyweights like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure continue to enable easy consumption of infrastructure services and migration, this year, unfortunately, offered no relief from the steady drumbeat of both corporate and personal data breaches.

So what’s in store for 2017? It’s not all doom and gloom, we promise. Here are a few of the trends that my fellow SolarWinds Head Geeks and I predict are set to drive IT industry developments in the year ahead.

Clarity on Containers

Containers from the likes of Google, Docker, CoreOS and Joyent continue to be a key area of discussion in the cloud computing space. In the past year, organizations across all major industries, from finance to e-commerce, took notice of containers as an exciting new method of operating system virtualization. However, this broader industry awareness led to a wave of rapid adoption without a fundamental understanding of the differences between containers and virtual machines.

Despite many early adopters implementing them as such, containers are not part and parcel replacements for virtual machines. In short, a container consists of an entire runtime environment—an application, its dependencies, libraries and other binaries, and configuration files needed to run it—bundled into one package designed for lightweight, short-term use. When implemented correctly, containers enable much more agile and portable software development environments.

We predict that in 2017, IT departments at large will finally come to a greater understanding of the fundamentals of container technology and how it can realistically and appropriately be used for IT operations alongside virtual infrastructure. For example, by packaging workloads into containers, which can spin up very quickly on other vendor platforms if needed, IT professionals can gain some of that management and control element back from public cloud infrastructure SLAs. Early adopters that likely implemented containerization in the last several years without a specific strategy in mind will also need to reassess their initial deployments to determine whether they are seeing any noticeable benefits.

The proliferation of containers as a computing strategy within IT departments will simultaneously give rise to greater security concerns—such as the risk of multiple containers being hacked through a single host OS kernel and, similar to VMs, sprawl—and the need for IT professionals that are skilled in specific coding languages related to containerization.

Move over SaaS: FaaS Gains Speed

The industry’s leading cloud service providers have introduced a new way to work in the cloud: Functions as a Service (FaaS). This new cloud computing category allows customers to develop, run and manage application functionalities without the headache of architecting and overseeing the backend infrastructure.

Launched in 2014 by AWS Lambda (although in the last several years, similar solutions have been offered by Azure and Google Cloud Platform), the service is typically used to build microservices applications. It aims to reduce the barrier of consumption for programming languages by decoupling the platform architecture, allowing IT professionals to develop programs to perform specific tasks without the additional plumbing. The rise of a new chapter in cloud computing signals the continuing maturity of the cloud market from its roots as infrastructure as a service, to PaaS, SaaS, FaaS, and beyond.

We predict that in 2017, more specialized services, such as FaaS, will continue to proliferate, given the targeted efficiency that leads to both a better experience and an improved pricing structure. The ability to run nearly any type of application or function, with zero infrastructure administration on the IT professional’s behalf, is tremendously appealing. New services will likely focus on these benefits.

Hybrid IT: Not Just a Concept, but a Reality

According to McKinsey Research, businesses have reported plans to reduce workloads located in on-premises environments, moving many to dedicated private cloud, virtual private cloud, and public infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) providers—all of which are expected to see greater adoption rates in the coming years. There’s no doubt that hybrid IT is the reality for the majority of organizations today and in the foreseeable future. And not only that, the center of technology itself is becoming increasingly hybrid. IT professionals must start thinking about management in a hybrid context. But what does it actually look like in practice?

In 2017, IT and business leaders will decide on specific solutions as they implement hybrid IT. For example, they may choose to use Office 365 and Skype for Business while hosting the identity management solution, Active Directory Federated Services, on-premises. Alternatively, the cloud has proven to be the best platform for virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), delivering organizations the required flexibility and elasticity to provision and de-provision virtual desktops in bulk. By migrating this workload to the cloud, an organization is able to relieve its IT professionals of the need to manage that infrastructure directly and refocus efforts on other on-premises projects.

Over the next several years, IT departments must exercise their growing responsibility to act as a technology liaison for business management by staying informed and making smart decisions when it comes to cloud, even if the decision is to do nothing in the near future because there is no immediate need for change. The key is to build a hybrid IT roadmap that integrates cloud adoption based on a per-workload and per-application basis to achieve a more agile, available, scalable, and efficient data center.

Shifting IT Roles

Finally – as traditional, siloed IT roles—network administrators, storage administrators, systems administrators, database administrators, and more—continue to take on new responsibilities, such as working with cloud service providers in hybrid environments, implementing new technologies, like containers and microservices, and acting as an IT liaison to business leaders, 2017 signals the return of the age of education and certification.

The ability to quickly learn new IT concepts and skills will be more important than being an expert in any one technology. While siloed experts who managed disparate parts of the infrastructure and application stack played a fundamental role in the traditional IT department, the modern data center is more interconnected than ever. As a result, IT generalists—who know a little bit about everything, have a holistic understanding of the application stack and can make quick, informed decisions about new technology—will be particularly successful in 2017 and beyond.

More specifically, the introduction of new machine-based technologies alongside the continued adoption of a DevOps culture, which encourages a de-siloed IT department, will require IT professionals to focus on developing new skillsets and certifications to operate and manage next-generation data centers.

Conclusion

Of course, what we’ve laid out above is by no means an exhaustive list of the potential changes we may see emerge in the year ahead, but is instead a selection of trends we anticipate will significantly move the needle both in the virtualization space and the IT industry as a whole next year. 2016 was full of surprises, and we’re sure 2017 will be no different.

SolarWinds

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