Optimal Infrastructure: A Horses for Courses Approach?

Optimal Infrastructure: A Horses for Courses Approach?

Mar 15, 2021

If you were going to bet on what aspects of the working world will ever return to whatever we remember as the pre-COVID ‘normal’, the smart money would be on not very much at all.

According to Gartner, the pandemic will even leave its mark on IT infrastructure and operations (I&O) – perhaps not by triggering any great revolution, but certainly by accelerating trends that were already gathering pace prior to the events of 2020.

In short, Gartner argues that infrastructure is diversifying, challenging the dominance of the traditional data centre model. Two developments in particular are responsible, the rise of cloud infrastructure and edge computing.

Gartner has elsewhere forecast that while spending on data centre systems fell 10% in 2020, investment in cloud infrastructure is set to double between 2019 and 2022.

Edge computing, meanwhile, which remains much smaller than either the cloud infrastructure or data centre markets, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 37.4% up to 2027, increasing in value 12-fold compared to 2019 figures.

Gartner’s interpretation of these disruptive trends in infrastructure is not that cloud or edge solutions will one day replace data centres. On the contrary, they believe the increase in choice in the market will lead to a shift in deployment behaviour.

Instead of adopting one big monolithic infrastructure for the whole organisation, companies are more likely to pick and choose different approaches to suit different requirements – horses for courses, if you like. Gartner refers to is as choosing the optimal infrastructure for each use case.

While Gartner acknowledges there will be added complexity in mixing and matching infrastructure models within a single coherent architecture, it argues that there is one trend above all others that will drive this shift – remote working.

Anywhere Operations

Remote working poses big challenges to I&O. With as much as half the workforce expected to continue to work from home at least some of the time even after the pandemic is over, these are not issues I&O leaders can expect to melt away.

Indeed, Gartner expects this trend to have such a fundamental impact on infrastructure that it predicts an astonishing 90% of I&O organisations will themselves have the majority of their staff working remotely by the end of 2023. That’s a clear sign of how big it expects the shift from data centre to cloud and edge approaches to be.

According to Gartner research vice president Jeffrey Hewitt, the structured approach of traditional I&O processes doesn’t sit well with the operational flexibility required to run a large dispersed workforce.

Achieving this level of flexibility requires decentralisation of infrastructure, which is where adding cloud and edge into the mix comes in.

Integration & Operations

Hewitt also argues that, in his view, one of the keys to creating the operational flexibility to truly allow anyone to work from anywhere is “developing programmable infrastructure that enables the right work in the right place at the right time.” This captures the essence of the ‘optimal infrastructure’ concept.

Programmable infrastructure refers to the replacement of traditional manual I&O management processes with methods borrowed from software development – or in other words, managing infrastructure with code. The use of programmable management interfaces opens the door to a much greater level of flexibility, including enabling the dynamic provision of and switching between different infrastructure systems.

It is worth noting the impact that this trend could have on the responsibilities of I&O teams and the different skill sets required. Gartner talks of a shift in emphasis towards ‘integration and operations’, suggesting that one of the key responsibilities of I&O in the near future will be matching different infrastructure technologies for different use case scenarios for optimal performance.

On top of this, there will also be the requirement to sync whatever infrastructure choices are made together into cohesive systems – hence ‘integration’. Given that Hewitt specifies the role of programmable interfaces in achieving this, we can also assume that Gartner sees a significant role for people skilled in programming and code.