7 trends driving innovation in computing infrastructure

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According to a recent survey, 69% of boards have responded to COVID-19 with digital business acceleration, while 60% have chosen to improve operational excellence through digital business.

Transformations that would normally take decades were completed by I&O in weeks and months, enabling enterprises to keep running during lockdown while developing the distributed enterprise – one that uses digital capabilities to support hybrid and remote workers, and provides services to consumers, both remotely and in person. The distributed enterprise is fueling the need for computing to be available in more locations and environments than ever before.

I&O is now in a position to build on the momentum of their high-profile performance during the pandemic and capitalize on business leaders’ realization that IT is fundamental to the operation of the business, and not just another cost. As such, they must address chronic issues such as technical debt, silo infrastructure services, and insufficient skills and resources.

Legacy technology, legacy processes and vulnerable workflows are certainly not helping organizations move organizations to the desired future state of delivery of computing platforms everywhere: on-premises, on the edge, in colocation facilities, and in the cloud.

The following seven trends and technologies are expected to help organizations drive innovation within their computing infrastructure and achieve the desired future state.

Technology for sustainability and energy efficiency

Organizations are driven by customers and investors to deliver sustainable solutions and that technology is considered critical, with the majority already investing in IT for their sustainability programs. For I&D leaders, this means introducing a strategy to reduce their organization’s carbon footprint (ie greenhouse gas emissions), water consumption, resource use and e-waste management in data centers.

By jumping on their company’s emphasis on being purposeful by supporting a broader set of business and social goals, such as sustainability, I&O helps build a robust growth trajectory against current market conditions.

Sustainability in the cloud, carbon footprint measurement and advanced network management software are the three emerging environmental sustainability technologies that will become mainstream early in one to three years.

By 2025, 75% of I&D leaders will be tasked by senior management with contributing to corporate sustainability goals, and 25% will have metrics linked to sustainable progress, especially around carbon neutrality.

Quantum Computing

While the real potential of quantum computing (QC) is still ten years away, there is enough progress in the field to justify I&D’s exploration of quantum techniques to address business problems. Quantum is another opportunity for I&D to become a hub for innovation rather than just the administrator of legacy systems.

I&O should focus on two specific areas within quantum:

  1. Developing Quantum Computing Skills
  2. Enabling business units, through quantum computing workgroups, to centralize and focus exploratory investments

Gartner expects more than a third of large enterprises to come up with quantum initiatives in the next three years to build managerial skills for QC opportunities.

Coming up with early quantum computing initiatives will create new QC champions equipped to navigate a rapidly evolving quantum ecosystem. In fact, by 2025, 25% of large enterprises will provide an evolutionary advantage over non-quantum-enabled peers through quantum-inspired initiatives.

SEE: Hiring Kit: Database Engineer (Tech Republic Premium)

Artificial intelligence

As they enter the mainstream of computing infrastructure, high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) are two newer areas that infrastructure teams must prioritize to ensure optimized computing infrastructure delivery. Once seen as only required for specialized needs, HPC is becoming a part of the mainstream for many organizations. Likewise, computing infrastructure for AI should become a core I&D asset. Due to the self-service nature of AI and HPC solutions, they are a powerful testbed for automating provisioning and delivering an immutable computing infrastructure.

I&O will use AI to enable many of the efficiencies that the other aspects of this roadmap will deliver. By leveraging AI for hyper-automation, I&O teams can be freed up to deliver the innovation and accelerated digital transformation needed to meet business needs.

In addition, by building AI-generated digital twins of compute and network infrastructure, change events can be verified against a model of the existing environment, making changes more robust and reliable and further freeing up I&D resources.

Immutable Infrastructure

Immutable infrastructure is a process pattern that is never updated once the system and application infrastructure is put into production. Instead, when changes are needed, the infrastructure and applications are simply replaced from the development pipeline.

Threats such as ransomware require infrastructure to be immutable down to the server and network firmware level. The result is an improved security posture with fewer vulnerabilities and a faster recovery time when new issues are identified.

By delivering the underlying systems in an automated, immutable manner, I&O can easily re-image each system so that it is identical to the previous configuration and guaranteed infection-free. This will place demands on the immutable storage of gold images and the processes required to keep them up to date.

Confidential Computing and Secure Systems

As data privacy and security requirements spread around the world, I&O must apply the concepts of privacy and security in everything they do. All I&O staff should have a basic understanding of key security requirements and be fully versed in technologies such as confidential computing, which protect data running on third-party systems.

Confidential computing can remove one of the major barriers to cloud adoption for highly regulated companies or organizations concerned about unauthorized third-party access to data used in the public cloud.

It also ensures a level of data privacy between competitors, data processors and data analysts that is very difficult to achieve with traditional cryptographic methods. I&O staff who understand secure systems using cryptographic signing techniques will be better able to ensure that firmware, hypervisors and operating systems are not compromised.

New System Connections

AI and HPC will drive the need for faster accelerators and new input/output (I/O) and memory solutions. Within the next two years, PCIe 5.0 and the Computer Express Link (CXL) Interconnect will enable the creation of new computing infrastructure architectures based on a PCIe 5.0 switched fabric. This is another scenario where HPC and AI will be the testbed for these solutions, allowing I&O to measure the capabilities and use cases for business solutions.

SEE: Microsoft Power Platform: What You Need to Know About It (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Memory layers

As CXL-connected memory becomes available, a method is needed to aggregate layers of different memory types such as DRAM, PMEM, and NVMe in a cost-effective manner.

Memory layer software allows applications to transparently access memory across multiple layers, with different performance characteristics, to cost-effectively enable extremely large memory footprints. I&D leaders should evaluate which computing platforms would benefit from such technology and how it might be implemented.

Together, these technologies will help I&D teams deliver compute platforms composed of systems that are deployed anywhere and modernized legacy systems that can be integrated into a configurable business design. Business units will also begin to see compute infrastructure resilience as a key differentiator, with I&O acting as an advisor to the business and trusted to design cost-effective strategies and enable rapid recovery in the event of an operational failure.

Black and white portrait of Tony Harvey.
Tony Harvey

Tony Harvey is senior research director at Gartner and covers a variety of infrastructure topics.

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