Here is 2021 in the eyes of an expert from a firm that defined x86 virtualization and now eyes the Edge.

The events of 2020 may lead one to believe that the year was a wash for technology innovation. I would argue otherwise. In fact, organizations worldwide had deployed inspired solutions to tackle considerable challenges.

Here are a few observations from 2020 that guide my five enterprise tech predictions for 2021.

1. Edging-in the new frontier for innovation

Amazing things are happening at the edge, as seen on full display in 2020. One example is how a leading bank in Asia deployed a secure virtual desktop for its team of 3,000 IT developers in just 21 days instead of the up-to-three months normal turnaround time.

Expansive SD-WAN rollouts at the edge and in home offices helped to boost network reliability and performance for better employee and customer experience. Simple SaaS-delivered solutions (inclusive of hardware) will further improve security and user experience wherever employees choose to work. And this will start a trend in which these solutions become the norm.

To react and innovate with velocity, more organizations in the region are using existing edge investments, and 2021 will continue to see prioritized investment at the edge. Additionally, I expect organizations to increasingly adopt secure access service edge (SASE) solutions.

This involves application and infrastructure services that are defined in software and deployed and managed as software updates. While upending legacy procurement processes along the way, organizations will dramatically improve performance and security.

Finally, new opportunities for infrastructure consolidation at the edge will reduce the number of specialized appliances (and therefore the costs) required to meet technology needs, while more intelligence from machine learning and predictive analytics will facilitate productivity and agility boosts. This is an exciting development as it opens doors for affordable solutions where you improve automation, safety and efficiencies, while simultaneously reducing costs.

2. Decentralizing machine learning

Across all industries, organizations are innovating to make better data-driven decisions, while leveraging highly-distributed technology footprints, and we have noticed early uptakes in federated machine learning (FML) among businesses.

With compute capacity practically everywhere, federated learning allows organizations to train ML models using local data sets. Open source projects, such as FATE and Kubeflow, are gaining traction. I expect the emergence of intuitive applications on these platforms to accelerate adoption further.

As ML adoption continues to pick up pace in the region, that acceleration is driven by turnkey solutions built for ‘everyone else’. These are enterprises that want to reap the rewards of ML without having to make large investments in data science teams—often a difficult challenge given the industry shortage of data scientists today.  

3. Ramping up Workplace 2.0 Initiatives

While there is still work to be done to drive mainstream adoption, 2021 will see gains in AR and VR adoption, aided by advancements in enterprise-class technologies that address the security, user experience and device management of these solutions in use cases like employee training, AR-assisted navigation (such as on corporate campuses), and in online meetings.

That said, the biggest gap for VR, in my opinion, is that there is no equivalent to Microsoft PowerPoint for VR. In other words, in the future I want to be able to quickly create 3D content that can be consumed in a VR paradigm. Today, there simply is no easy productivity tool that would allow anyone to quickly create rich 3D content to take full advantage of the 360-degree panorama afforded by VR.

I expect this to be an area of focus for AR and VR technologists moving forward.

4. Evolving intrinsic security and data protection

According to VMware Carbon Black’s Global Threat Report 2020, the frequency of cyberattacks reached unprecedented levels last year.

In 2021, security will once again be amongst the top technology investments for the year, with both ransomware and security at the edge getting increased attention. Sophisticated ransomware attacks are not just targeting data, but also data and system backups. This creates the potential that even system restores are compromised.

As the year progresses, legacy solutions with static protection and recovery approaches will start facing the potential for disruption. If so, we need to change how we protect systems and data and fundamentally rethink what it means to back up and recover systems.

At the edge, a growing number of technology decisions are being made by the lines of business—sometimes even at a local level—and not central IT. This has long created challenges because smart and connected devices are deployed at edge sites faster than traditional IT processes. While we should always strive toward deploying compliant solutions, we need to accept the fact that business velocity and agility requirements can be in conflict.

To that end, we must look at technologies that offer broader discovery of connected systems at the edge and provide adaptive security policy enforcement for those systems. Instead of fighting the battle for control, security leaders must accept there is some degree of chaos and innovate with the expectation of chaos, as opposed to outright control.

5. Applying new tech to old challenges

In 2021, what was old may be new again—at least in taking another look at how new technologies can help solve old challenges.

For example, in the area of sustainable computing, there is a lot of energy efficiency to be gained in the traditional data center. Customers are experimenting with optimizing hot and cool aisle spaces in their data centers. Early studies have revealed a promising amount of energy efficiency through platform-driven data center heat management.

Also, machine learning may soon help reduce software development costs.

2020 was a year of determined progress. Unforeseen challenges taught us to plan and architect for the expectation of change. And we must be resilient to adapt to new ways of living and working.

2021 is ushering-in hope as we navigate whatever comes our way. And I am excited to see how the new normal will be shaped by advancements in technology.