Covid-19 cast a very long shadow over 2020. Fundamental changes — some temporary, some permanent — occurred due to a pandemic that impacted virtually every quarter of the business world. As this shadow extends into 2021, cloud computing will continue to evolve to accommodate this new reality. Three trends, in particular, will have a major influence.
On-premises services moving to the cloud
As early as March of this year, it was predicted that businesses with on-premises equipment would move large quantities of their services to a cloud, co-location or managed infrastructure. Many were already in the process — but Covid-19 accelerated the roadmaps considerably.
Part of the acceleration was highly pragmatic. Locked-down office buildings meant it was nearly impossible to get to equipment — a situation that might have been catastrophic in the event of a serious issue. Even getting replacements for failed equipment would have risked delivery delays. Enterprises realised that going virtual was a safer, more flexible and possibly more cost-effective solution.
Since then, the shift has forecasted an even more seismic change, as companies realise that work-from-home (WFH) is a viable long-term option for employees and employers alike. Office space is expected to undergo a significant downsizing (with reports predicting that the office market could shed 145 million square feet in the next two years) — and as rent decreases, more funds will be available to support the move to the cloud. IT investment will be an opex-versus-capex question.
The consequences will greatly impact all forms of cloud services, but particularly those involving the big players — Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. We may see a transferal in IT staffing to cloud services as well, as less on-premises infrastructure is needed.
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Work from home and mobility
A newly-created remote workforce will change the office environment — but there is much more at stake as people leave the workplace, and enterprise IT must be ready.
WFH will further accelerate a migration away from geographically concentrated IT services to cloud-based solutions that can be accessed anywhere there’s an internet connection. Networks, applications and devices will all need to be rethought and redeployed. Even voice will move to the cloud; customer service and help desk operations will need to adapt using UCaaS (Unified Communications-as-a-Service) and CCaaS (Contact Centre-as-a-Service) solutions, along with technology innovations (unfortunately this includes trackers) that allow supervisors to manage remote workers.
As businesses offload physical hardware to employee-owned, VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) and DaaS (Desktop-as-a-Service) will become more common. Some companies are weighing the deployment of SD-WANs (Software Defined Wide Area Networks) against the cost per square foot of office space.
As for connectivity, latency is now an issue, based on the differences in internet speeds in residential neighborhoods. Wi-Fi speeds vary greatly by location, usage and time of day. Larger enterprises are compensating for this, in part, by deploying business-grade connections to critical employees.
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New kinds of security risk
As so often is the case, security both follows and precedes nearly every kind of IT development. Such is the case with the shift to virtual services, as the enterprise digital perimeter expands, and the security envelope gets stretched.
Instead of maintaining a firewall around a tight physical space, the challenge for security professionals in 2021 will be to begin at the endpoint — wherever and whatever it is — and work backward toward the centre. Security standards for residential equipment and networks is far different than for commercial settings — a fact not lost on cyber criminals.
Since Covid-19, there has been a huge increase in phishing attacks. Home Depot- and Equifax-scale attacks are more than a possibility. Healthcare in particular is under stress as criminals focus on the increase in both caseloads and WFH. Insurance claims and patient records can be more lucrative on the black market that social security numbers, making endpoint security of paramount importance.
Securing cloud-based WFH employees in the coming year will likely take one of two paths, depending on organisational size. For companies that can afford it, moving to a zero-trust security model resembling SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) architecture will make sense. For those that cannot, existing solutions such as DNS security will be instituted at an accelerated rate. Either way, employee security training (e.g. phishing attack awareness) will be mandatory.
As 5G begins hitting its stride in 2021, security will be even more challenging for organisations based in the cloud. 5G is all about increasing speed and IoT connectivity; cars, voice assistants, wearables, and even home appliances all have network connections. But thanks to 5G, the possibilities for what these devices can do are now a much greater concern. Don’t kid yourself — even a network-connected refrigerator can be a point of entry for bad actors wishing to penetrate a corporate data centre, and with 5G they can do so much faster.
2021 promises to be another transformative year for IT — much of it due to Covid-19, as its effects persist. One day, however, the coronavirus will be gone, and the question facing most organisations, as they emerge from this era, will be how to wisely embrace the new challenges and new realities. Cloud computing, thanks to its versatility and ubiquity, may be just the answer they’re looking for.