Interwoven 2017 IT trends are equal parts technology and culture

IT never sleeps, and 2017 will keep them on their toes. Experts and IT professionals weigh in on their expectations for the cloud, containers and DevOps.

IT operations constantly grows and shifts, with some ideas left behind and new ones picked up along the way.

Between optimism and skepticism, excitement and weariness, professionals and experts look forward to 2017 IT trends taking spotlights. None of these trends are new -- we've all heard of DevOps -- but as adoption increases, these emerging areas showcase real uses and value.

Cloud environments are the future of computing. Containers deserve and demand business attention. DevOps is poised to become a mainstream IT methodology -- and that's a good thing.

Plan for DevOps

How can IT plan for a technologically imperative future without having to pay for it in the present?

That's the big question that frames discussion of the pros and cons of DevOps, said Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp., a strategic consulting firm. Organizations must plan for a future that takes into consideration their current and potential future needs -- and that is not obsolete upon arrival.

"It wouldn't have cost much -- if any -- more to have done it the right way," he said. "But we didn't, and now it'll cost a lot to fix it."

Actions taken to manage near-term cost often are unnecessary and result in mistakes, which end up being disastrous failures that are difficult to fix. Don't let this be one of the top 2017 IT trends at your business.

The other ALM?

Application lifecycle management is often discussed in terms of software development, but that ignores the rising criticality of ALM in IT operations. With more complicated application architectures and deployment workflows, the cost of failure increases radically. Operational ALM will support other 2017 IT trends, such as DevOps.

DevOps is certainly the biggest hot topic to keep tabs on this upcoming year, but it's still a bleeding-edge concept for most organizations and rarely happening across a whole company. A handful of companies have adopted it and made mistakes, and are trying again.

At the same time, a greater variety of organizations have begun to embrace the DevOps methodology for service management and app delivery, which requires close ties between developers, IT operations and related professionals. This mainstream push should make 2017 a year of demonstrable change in DevOps practices and spur adoption among average, risk-averse companies.

DevOps has taken root at many organizations with a set of discrete tools. Companies seek a more cohesive and integrated management tool set, but discrete pieces don't have to be dropped -- organizations can ensure tools all work together under an overarching shell, said Clive Longbottom, analyst at U.K.-based Quocirca.

The issue of voluminous data

Data volume is increasing exponentially, especially with the advent of the internet of things, and data will only get more complex and less structured. Companies already struggle to manage and contain copious data they don't understand from multitudinous sources. This could cause a resurgence of data warehousing, but it could also open up doors for the implementation of deep-learning artificial intelligence software.

Containers: Docker's dominance

Containers aren't going anywhere in 2017 -- except, perhaps, to get comfortable in their spotlight.

"We're getting to the point where we look at running an entire VM [and an encapsulated operating system] to run an app as being wasteful," said Matt Sprague, manager of infrastructure services at CDI LLC in Teterboro, N.J., though he admitted "we're not there yet." Operating systems, much like hardware layers, will someday become the service provider's management problem, rather than be managed at the enterprise level, Sprague predicted, but OSes and VMs will never go away completely.

Docker is the container favorite, and it's an "egregious mistake" for an organization to use anything else, Nolle said. Other container alternatives, such as CoreOS and Apache Mesos, generally pop up to address something Docker missed, Nolle said -- the key is to interpret them as indicators of both Docker's roadmap and the importance of that feature, or its lack, to your organization. For example, a container option that is promoted as more secure than Docker indicates some customers think Docker is not secure enough. Before you bail on Docker, be sure to assess whether you're part of that group in need of heightened security. Weaknesses exist in every environment; you have to determine if those weaknesses are bad for you.

However, not everyone is quite so starry-eyed about container technology. The two years of conversation and minimal adoption of containers is parallel to Java portability for Brian Kirsch, IT architect and instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College. It has potential to streamline application deployment, but requires a significant redesign to most applications, which is a major investment.

Is the payout worth it? Containers don't have the same security footprint as a monolithic application, because they're just designed to execute code; there is no multigated system protection. "One security breach in a container and look out," he said. Enterprises should implement security defense in-depth to guard against additional vulnerabilities caused by containers and practice container-aware security measures from Day 1.

Google's Kubernetes might be the best solution to this situation, said Serge van Ginderachter, principal consultant at Ginsys, an IT operations services company based in Waarshoot, Belgium. It is inspired by Google-scale operations -- i.e., the massive ones -- but it works just as well on small scales, which means it potentially could solve a lot of problems encountered in traditional configuration management at diverse IT shops.

A major perceived benefit of containers is portability, but it's unclear whether or when the vast majority of mainstream IT organizations actually will use containers that way, said Kurt Marko, technology analyst at MarkoInsights and a TechTarget contributor.

Hybrid cloud and portability

Cloud services, hybrid cloud and multicloud environments are all on the rise, in place of owned physical and virtual setups at all kinds of companies.

The cloud isn't a new concept in IT -- it's merely something running somewhere else, said Carlos Casanova, president of Casanova Advisory Services in Providence, R.I.

"In theory, these specialized vendors can do [off-site cloud] more efficiently [than IT organizations]," he said. These vendors can scale better, but that increased capacity is an effect of technology, rather than an increase in skill.

An all-cloud IT world may never be a reality, because not everything can go onto a cloud. "Ultimately, hybridization is the future," Sprague said.

The question of which cloud or clouds to use is as prevalent as the cloud itself. The best advice, experts said, is to find a cloud service provider whose offerings best fit the needs of your business. This will prevent a piecemeal approach with multiple clouds deployed to meet slightly different needs.

"The first step to controlling the costs of multicloud is not doing it unless you have to," Nolle said. Some applications run notably better, or even exclusively, on a cloud service versus what is used predominantly at an organization, making multicloud deployments worthwhile.

Simultaneously, the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) market will be development-focused and active, Marko said. For IT operations, this means the level of interaction with cloud services will only increase.

"PaaS will be a motivator to build cloud-first, cloud-native applications designed around microservices, or at least cloud services," he said. "IT [will] have to actually manage a full gamut of cloud services and not treat them the same way they've always run servers and storage."

Ultimately, most companies won't jump on the newest, hottest trends right away because they're still trying to solve more fundamental problems.

"If you have an architecture that allows components to work independently, great, but most companies need a way to coordinate hundreds of people," said Gary Gruver, ‎president at Gruver Consulting LLC. The handful of companies leading the industry with these new ideas are functionally guinea pigs, testing the waters so that the rest of the pack knows where to start and what to avoid on their path.

Emily Mell is an assistant editor for TechTarget's SearchITOperations. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @EmilyRMell on Twitter.

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