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7 trends driving compute infrastructure innovation
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COVID-19 accelerated the shift to digital business, forcing infrastructure and operations (I&O) teams to accelerate delivery of scalable, agile systems to enable digital business transformation.
According to a recent survey, 69% of boards have responded to COVID-19 with digital business acceleration, while 60% have chosen improving operational excellence through digital business.
Transformations that would normally have taken decades were executed by I&O within weeks and months, enabling enterprises to keep running during the lockdown while also developing the distributed enterprise—one that uses digital capabilities to support hybrid and remote workers, and delivers services to consumers both remotely and in person. The distributed enterprise fuels the need for compute 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 achievements throughout the pandemic and capitalize on business leaders’ realization that IT is fundamental to the operation of the business, not just another cost center. As such, they must address chronic problems such as technical debt, siloed infrastructure services and insufficient skills and resources.
Old technology, antiquated processes and fragile workflows are certainly not helping bring organizations to their desired future state of delivering compute platforms everywhere: On-premises, at the edge, in colocation facilities and in the cloud.
The following seven trends and technologies are expected to help organizations drive innovation within their compute infrastructure and reach their desired future state.
Organizations are being driven by customers and investors to deliver sustainable solutions and that technology is seen as being critical, with the majority already investing in IT for their sustainability programs. For I&O leaders, this means introducing a strategy to reduce their organization’s carbon footprint (i.e., greenhouse gas emissions), water consumption, resource utilization and e-waste management in data centers.
By jumping on their enterprise’s emphasis to become purpose-driven by supporting a broader set of business and societal goals—like sustainability—I&O is helping build a robust growth trajectory on today’s market terms.
Cloud sustainability, carbon footprint measurement and advanced grid management software are the three emerging environmental sustainability technologies that will reach early mainstream adoption within one to three years.
By 2025, 75% of I&O leaders will be tasked by senior management with contributing to enterprise sustainability goals, and 25% will have metrics tied to sustainable progress, specifically around carbon neutrality.
While quantum computing’s (QC) true potential remains a decade away, there is sufficient progress in the field to justify I&O’s exploration of quantum techniques to address business problems. Quantum is another opportunity for I&O to become a center for innovation rather than simply the maintainer of legacy systems.
I&O should focus on two specific areas within quantum:
Gartner expects over a third of large enterprises will devise quantum initiatives to build management skills ahead of QC opportunities in the next three years.
Devising early quantum computing initiatives will create new QC champions who are equipped to navigate a rapidly evolving quantum ecosystem. In fact, by 2025, 25% of large enterprises will deliver an evolutionary advantage over non-quantum-enabled peers through quantum-inspired initiatives.
SEE: Hiring Kit: Database engineer (TechRepublic Premium)
As they move into the mainstream of compute infrastructure, high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) are two newer areas that infrastructure teams must prioritize to ensure optimized compute infrastructure delivery. Once seen as required only for specialized needs, HPC is becoming part of the mainstream for many organizations. Similarly, compute infrastructure for AI must become a core I&O capability. Because of the self-service nature of AI and HPC solutions, they are a powerful test bed for the automation of provisioning and delivering immutable compute infrastructure.
I&O will use AI to enable many of the efficiencies that will deliver on the other aspects of this roadmap. By leveraging AI for hyper automation, I&O teams can be freed up to deliver on the innovation and accelerated digital transformation required to meet business needs.
In addition, building AI-generated digital twins of compute and networking infrastructure allows change events to be verified against a model of the existing environment, making changes more robust and reliable and further freeing up I&O resources.
Immutable infrastructure is a process pattern that is never updated once the system and application infrastructure is deployed into production. Instead, when changes are required, the infrastructure and applications are simply replaced from the development pipeline.
Threats such as ransomware create a need for infrastructure to be immutable down to the server and networking firmware levels. The result is an improved security posture with fewer vulnerabilities and faster time to remediate when new issues are identified.
By delivering the underlying systems in an automated, immutable fashion, I&O can simply reimage any system so that it is identical to its previous configuration and guaranteed free of infection. This will drive requirements for the immutable storage of gold images and the processes necessary to keep these up to date.
As data privacy and security requirements proliferate across the globe, I&O must bring the concepts of privacy and security to everything they do. All I&O staff will need a basic understanding of core security requirements and to be fully conversant with technologies like confidential computing, which protects data running on third-party systems.
Confidential computing may mitigate one of the major barriers to cloud adoption for highly regulated businesses or any organization concerned about unauthorized third-party access to data in use in the public cloud.
It also allows 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 secured systems that use cryptographic signing techniques will be in a better position to ensure firmware, hypervisors and operating systems are not compromised.
AI and HPC will drive the need for higher-performance 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 deliver the opportunity to create new architectures for compute infrastructure, based on a switched PCIe 5.0 fabric. This is again a scenario where HPC and AI will be the test bed for these solutions, enabling I&O to gauge capabilities and use cases for enterprise solutions.
SEE: Microsoft Power Platform: What you need to know about it (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
As CXL connected memory becomes available, a method for aggregating tiers of different memory types such as DRAM, PMEM, and NVMe in a cost-effective manner will be needed.
Memory tiering software will enable applications to transparently access memory across multiple tiers, with different performance characteristics, to enable extremely large memory footprints cost-effectively. I&O leaders should evaluate which compute platforms will benefit from such a technology and how this can be implemented.
Taken together, these technologies will help I&O teams deliver compute platforms that are composed of systems deployed everywhere and modernized legacy systems that can be integrated into a composable business design. Business units will also come to see compute infrastructure resilience as a key differentiator, where I&O acts as an advisor to the business and is relied upon to architect cost-effective strategies and enable rapid recovery in the event of operational failure.
Tony Harvey is a senior research director at Gartner and covers a variety of infrastructure topics.  
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7 trends driving compute infrastructure innovation
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