In a nutshell, edge and cloud computing will be the complementary forces that organizations need to navigate, balance and leverage.

Recently, technologists across the world’s largest data center and colocation infrastructure provider Equinix shared with DigiconAsia what they believe are trends that will shape digital infrastructure for 2021 and beyond.

In turn, readers can use their insights to guide in the formulation of strategies when planning and executing critical business resilience policies.

  1. Data centers will shift toward grid-positive
    In light of the climate crisis, avoiding negative impact toward creating positive change is key. Leading organizations are shifting corporate sustainability goals in tandem with the Paris Accord and recognizing the urgent need to decarbonize global economies.
  2. In 2021, data centers will play a key role in supporting digital transformation. Along with this responsibility is the expectation to drive a positive environmental impact. We will see movement toward the first major ‘grid-and-sustainability’-positive data center projects. The next generation of data centers will be decentralized and integrated into communities, serving as resilient ecosystems for compute, connectivity, power and heat.

    With an increased focus on sustainability comes a shift toward open data center infrastructure standards—from design and operation to power management to next-generation fuel cells and cooling. This trend will accelerate data center innovation and play a vital role toward grid positivity by reducing the considerable barriers that equipment providers face in developing platforms to serve mission-critical data center facilities.

    Numerous interdependent factors—including:
  • advancements in open-hardware platforms and vendor interoperability
  • increasing urgency in developing renewable energy sources and integration into wholesale power markets
  • the associated challenges of storage and new platforms requiring ever-lower, end-to-end latency
  • the need to drive compute and network resources closer to the edge

will spawn a new generation of grid-positive data center projects.

  1. Momentum in edge computing will fuel innovation
    According to Gartner analysts, by 2023, more than 50% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the data center or cloud, up from less than 10% in 2019. 

    In 2021, we will see continued momentum in edge-first deployments and a wave of technology innovations across the infrastructure stack to address the increased complexity of reliably scaling and orchestrating distributed infrastructure at the edge.

    While laggards in digital transformation are clamoring to get into cloud-based solutions, elsewhere, there will be a move away from centralized data centers to a distributed, interconnected infrastructure positioned at edge locations proximate to data creation and consumption sources.

    Moreover, as compute and data shifts to the edge, new edge-specific infrastructure constraints will arise. These include capacity and availability requirements related to footprint, power, network, compute and storage hardware, as well as needs for modularity and extensibility, multi-tenancy, fully automated operations (NoOps) and availability zones spanning several data centers. These, and more, will need to be well understood and optimized concurrently.

    Also, deploying distributed applications across multiple edge locations and infrastructure tiers— from the edge to cloud—requires a thorough understanding and evaluation of architectural trade-offs, including the design of availability zones; distributed service meshes; traffic management; data pipelines; security; caching and state management (stateless versus stateful)—to name a few.
  1. Cloud-native infrastructure will dominate
    Put simply, cloud-native is a software development ideology that promotes the use of cloud computing technologies and tenets such as microservices; API-first; containers and DevOps; as well as related capabilities such as container orchestration (Kubernetes), service mesh (Istio) and immutable infrastructure.

    Together, these technologies empower organizations to rapidly build, run and orchestrate scalable applications that can be distributed and deployed globally. These distributed deployments have increasingly stringent requirements in terms of latency, availability, performance and agility; and rely heavily on infrastructure that offers self-provisioning, autoscaling and self-healing capabilities through software.

    In 2020, multiple years of DX were mandated and executed in mere months, and the trend will remain. IDC analysts predict that by the end of 2021, 80% of enterprises will put a mechanism in place to shift to cloud-centric infrastructure and applications twice as fast as before the pandemic.

    By fully abstracting modern digital infrastructure and orchestrating it through software, application developers will be able to deploy and manage distributed infrastructure at software speed, so they can focus on what is important: innovating and building great apps.

    Such abstractions require building real-time observability into infrastructure state and developing programmatic interfaces through which the desired state can be defined declaratively, for any component, or any combination of components, end-to-end, from the edge to cloud.

    With such a framework in place, deploying and managing distributed infrastructure comes down to building a closed-loop, adaptive distributed system. The only way this can be achieved effectively at scale is through software and open technologies.

The ability to virtualize and/or containerize and abstract workloads from underlying physical devices has given rise to shifting paradigms such as infrastructure-as-code and immutable infrastructure—permitting rapid deployment of infrastructure resources and faster implementation timeframes, especially in the Cloud.