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SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2018: The Intersection of Hype and Performance
Article Written by Kong Yang, Head Geek, SolarWinds 

In today's digital economy, IT performance is more critical than ever. Time and cost savings stemming from high performance-and losses associated with performance hiccups-can have a serious impact on a business's bottom line. In fact, Amazon® has calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second could cost its business $1.6 billion in sales each year. The average small business can expect to lose $100,000 in IT downtime every year.

While today's industry hype cycle focuses on technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and blockchain, in many cases more traditional solutions - and more basic problems - are the most urgent priorities for IT management. The C-suite considers AI, ML, and deep learning to be fundamental elements of digital transformation, but what does the IT community say? Will these new technologies actually enable IT to reach optimal performance faster? The SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2018: The Intersection of Hype and Performance explores IT professionals' view about what is happening in their technology worlds.

The findings of this year's report are based on a survey of IT practitioners, managers, and directors at public and private-sector small, mid-size, and enterprise organizations, fielded in December 2017 by C White Consulting on behalf of SolarWinds. Regions surveyed in 2018, as reported on the SolarWinds IT Trends Index, were North America, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, with 803 respondents across all geographies combined.

Overall, the 2018 key findings show that:

Cloud computing and hybrid IT will remain IT professionals' top priority for the next five years as these elements meet today's business needs while serving as the foundation for trends like machine learning and AI.

  • 94 percent of IT professionals surveyed indicate that cloud and/or hybrid IT is one of the top five most important technologies in their IT organization's technology strategy today, with 51 percent listing it as their number one most important technology.
  • When ranking most important technologies today, and for digital transformation over the next three to five years, as well as technologies with the greatest potential to provide productivity/efficiency benefits and ROI, IT professionals ranked cloud and hybrid IT as number one across the board (by weighted rank).

At the same time, IT professionals are prioritizing internal investments in containers as a proven solution to the challenges of cloud computing and hybrid IT, and a key enabler of innovation.

  • 44 percent of respondents ranked containers as the most important technology priority today, and 38 percent of respondents ranked containers as the most important technology priority three to five years from now
  • Concurrently, AI and ML investments are expected to increase in importance over the next three to five years.
  • 37 percent of respondents indicate AI is the biggest priority and 31 percent of respondents indicate ML is the biggest priority three to five years from now (compared to 29 percent and 21 percent today, respectively).

The results of the IT Trends Survey suggest a dissonance between the views of IT professionals and their senior managers on priorities for IT investment over the next three to five years.

  • On the weighted list of technologies IT professionals believe are needed for an IT organization's digital transformation over the next three to five years, AI did not make the top five.
    • This contrasts with a recent CEO survey, which found that 81 percent of CEOs consider AI and machine learning to be a priority for their business, up from just 54 percent in 2016 (Fortune).

While IT professionals continue prioritizing cloud computing and hybrid IT, adoption of these technologies has made it challenging to optimize performance of their systems and applications.

  • 58 percent of IT professionals surveyed indicated that by weighted rank, cloud/hybrid IT presents the greatest challenges when it comes to implementation, roll-out and day-to-day performance
  • Nearly half (47 percent) of all IT professionals surveyed think that their IT environments are not operating at optimal levels
    • Over half of all IT professionals surveyed spend less than 25 percent of their time proactively optimizing performance
    • Nearly half of IT professionals spend 50 percent or more of their time reactively maintaining and troubleshooting their IT environment

Many IT professionals cite a lack of organizational strategy and inadequate investment in areas such as user training as the most common barriers to system optimization.

  • Of IT professionals indicating their environments are not optimized, 43 percent ranked inadequate organizational strategy as one of the top three barriers to achieving optimization
    • To achieve true performance and work toward a successful digital transformation, IT professionals require deeper strategic collaboration with business leaders.

With these findings in mind, it is essential that IT professionals continue prioritizing cloud and hybrid IT while simultaneously developing new skill sets and leveraging emerging technologies to help their organizations along their digital transformation journeys. To help IT professionals arm themselves with a new set of skills, technologies, and resources to bridge the leadership gap and manage the intersection of hype and performance, consider the following recommendations:

1.       Concentrate on Containers

Because delivering organizational value is a constant goal, IT professionals should continue to prioritize container deployment, both from an investment and skills-development perspective.  

For IT professionals seeking to concentrate on containers, they should first find out if the IT organization is already working with the technology. If it is, get to know the people involved and engage with them. If the IT organization is not working with containers, IT professionals can simply go to Docker® and grab Docker CE for Mac® or Windows® for laptop-based experiments, learn from the tutorials provided by Kubernetes® (especially Minikube), or consume a platform like Amazon ECS. There are also many communities like GitHub® that allows container experts to freely share their knowledge. Once IT professionals learn how containers work, they should start learning about container automation and orchestration to enable a bridge into scaling the integration and delivery of distributed apps and cloud deployments, all while opening a path to greater understanding of how those workloads are managed.

2.       Cloud Power-Up

IT professionals are beginning to consume different service delivery models - like moving from Microsoft® ExchangeTM Servers to Office 365®- and migrate more of their mission-critical applications to the cloud.

In parallel with these changes, there must be increased observability - leveraging combined metrics, logs, and application traces for controllability - built into an organization's cloud monitoring strategy. This degree of monitoring with discipline must carry forward the same level of granularity and source of truth that has existed in on-premises environments for decades. The key part of this process is establishing a baseline of observability within their hybrid IT environments across the entirety of their cloud-based applications.

3.       Bridge the Leadership Gap

There will continue to be a great deal of excitement around ML and AI into the foreseeable future. As we saw with cloud, executives are eager to implement the technology, which promises the hyped benefits of disruptive innovation, and want to activate a new technology quickly without the experience to understanding current capabilities, technical complexities, or deployment challenges. The best course of action for IT professionals is to become educators: identify ways to discuss the basics and then the specific cost-benefit analysis of how the technology will benefit the business and what it means for service integration and service delivery.

4.       Embrace Resiliency and Reliability as Performance Metrics 

To achieve digital transformation success, it's imperative that IT professionals begin to embrace resiliency and reliability of their environments as critical performance metrics.

Resiliency and reliability underscore the business value that IT professionals can bring to fruition for their organizations. They also represent measures of how well a distributed application was integrated and delivered; and because they also represent overall performance, these metrics translate into dollar values. With the stakes so high, the ability to ensure the end user's digital experience is essential: IT should look to leverage tools that deliver full-stack observability into the logs, metrics, and tracing data that underpin reliability and resiliency metrics and ultimately optimize environments.

While it's natural for business leaders to be eager about implementing new technologies that promise to meet the growing demands of their organizations, the IT professional is ultimately responsible for keeping businesses on a practical track regarding technology implementation. Although AI and ML are not currently the highest priorities for IT professionals, optimizing cloud/hybrid IT environments creates a critical pathway to eventually deploy and capture the compelling benefits of these emerging technologies.

2018 presents IT professionals with the opportunity to continue identifying ways to optimize the digital experience for end-users in hybrid IT environments while prioritizing investments in technologies that will deliver business value well beyond IT.

To review the full SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2018: The Intersection of Hype and Performance findings and recommendations, visit the SolarWinds IT Trends Index online or download the PDF.

Published Wednesday, April 11, 2018 8:45 AM by David Marshall
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