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Cloud Foundry Foundation 2021 Predictions: Cloud Native Meets the Edge, Pandemic After Effects and Pervasive Machine Learning

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual series exclusive.

Cloud Native Meets the Edge, Pandemic After Effects and Pervasive Machine Learning

By Chip Childers, Exec director, Cloud Foundry Foundation

The trends of digitization, consumerization of IT, adoption of both open source software and cloud have continued to grow year after year, but the global pandemic brought about an extraordinary surge in 2020. The global pandemic laid plain the need for organizations to be quick to respond to changing conditions. Those of us that were lucky enough to be able to work from home for months at a time struggled to keep our human connections going, leading to a surge in demand for video conferencing, virtual event platforms and work from home technologies. It has been quite a year of change, much of which will be with us for years to come.

With 2020 nearing an end, here are three predictions for the enterprise technology space in 2021 (and one prediction, just for fun, about technology for our new office... our home).

Cloud native moves to the edge 

"Cloud Native" has become the dominant infrastructure style and application design trend for the last several years. The benefits of this style of computing are being experienced by a large number of organizations and individual technologists. A parallel trend has been the explosion of edge computing capabilities and platforms, aligned with the digitization of industrial systems from manufacturing to supply-chain management. While there are plenty of differences between cloud and edge computing, one critical similarity is that software is what makes the infrastructure useful.

The Cloud Native movement has evolved as a set of technologies and practices that help shorten software development cycles. Edge computing will start to see demand for these faster iterations, and therefore we will see the adaptation of cloud native technologies for edge computing scenarios accelerate beyond the early steps of 2020.

The Digitization of Business is Here to Stay

The global pandemic made it remarkably clear which industries and companies had already embraced digital engagement channels, and which had not. Unfortunately for some, the consumer demand for digital-first engagement, brought about by the global pandemic, left many scrambling to catch up. While it is unfortunate that some companies were not well positioned to respond to changing business conditions, there were many companies that actually thrived this year.

The pandemic has changed our world where digital engagement is now expected to be the primary method of engagement. In 2021, don't expect this shift to revert to pre-pandemic behaviors. Even after we get a handle on the pandemic itself, consumers have seen how convenient digital engagement is for them. Office-workers around the world have learned to work from home, or really from anywhere. While we all yearn for more human connections again, we will want these moments of connection to be meaningful and have much less patience for those old face-to-face interactions that were, frankly, a waste of time.

Machine Learning will Become More Approachable for Developers

Machine learning is coming into its own in 2020, as advancements in the core technologies and new "as a service" ML services are being launched by every major cloud provider. This technology will continue to be adopted in 2021, in large part through simplification for application developers. We will see a rush of new tooling that allows developers without deep knowledge of the underlying ML technologies to be productive while integrating the capability into their software. This will include pre-trained models, easier model training and API accessible services wrapping up ML tools.

As an example, the "typical" software developer hasn't developed a deep understanding of how to work with frameworks like Google's Tensorflow. Google Cloud has already built a suite of machine learning services, spanning infrastructure services optimized for building models as well as higher level capabilities like its Cloud Translation service. The other hyperscale cloud providers have similar suites of services. While the spectrum of offerings is good, that "typical" developer can only easily take advantage of the higher level offerings. I expect to see an explosion of those services, but also the evolution of the lower level options to be much more developer friendly.

Major Advancements of Internet of (Home) Things

While I usually focus on the enterprise and developer part of the technology industry, I'm both a user and an advocate for home automation. For a bit of fun, here's my prediction for the consumer IoT space. 

The last several years have seen an explosion in IoT devices for home consumers, but internet connected doesn't usually equal "smart" in my experience. With so many people spending much more time at home in 2020, many of these products and platforms are seeing much more use than ever before. It has become glaringly obvious that the promise of a connected home that automatically responds to the needs of the residents isn't here yet. As one example, there's no easy way for most smart home systems to actually know who is at home. Sure, that's possible based on a phone's location being detected or motion sensing devices to sense motion. But, using the phone has problems like: What about the kids who are too young to own their own phone? What about visitors or guests? What if I dare to power my phone off for a couple of hours?

In 2021, expect suppliers of smart home devices to make a major push toward a connected home model, which some are referring to as "ambient home computing". We should see platforms and products start working together in more seamless and intelligent ways, not just being responsive to different automation triggers, but predictive of the needs of the user. The vendors will start getting "smart" about embedding presence sensors in all of their devices to increase coverage of the home and improve accuracy in determining if anyone is home. They should also start getting better at conditional logic, but not requiring the consumer to build that logic. A great example of this would be scenes, perhaps triggered by voice commands, being smart enough to adapt to where people are in the house. Imagine an "evening" scene that usually turns off the lights in rooms you don't use often in the evening, but is proactive enough to keep the kitchen lights on when someone is actually in that room.

We should see much more intelligent automation become friendly for consumers. This shift won't be completed in 2021, but it will start in earnest. How vendors will make this happen, while following the principle of "don't surprise the user", will be interesting to see.

Can we really predict what will happen in 2021?

As I said at the start, 2020 was a unique year (to say the least). The acceleration of existing technology trends was forced on everyone, due to both the urgency of necessity and the discovery of new opportunities that some were lucky enough to find unfolding. We will keep progressing rapidly as an industry next year, and many of the changes brought about in 2020 will be with us for years into the future.

There is a software release approach referred to as "rolling forward", where you never revert your production systems to an older version even if a regression or new bug is found. You fix the bug and release yet another new version. Rolling forward is a philosophy that puts a priority on getting features in the hands of the users. Our industry is behaving in much the same way ... we'll keep rolling forward, adjusting and reacting as new challenges arise. The trends are clear, but the unpredictable nature of our world makes it quite difficult to see what we have in store for us in the coming months. That said, 2021 should be yet another interesting year as we hopefully come out of the pandemic that has impacted all our lives so dramatically.


About the Author

Chip Childers 

Chip has spent 20 years in large-scale computing and open source software. In 2020, he took over as Executive Director at Cloud Foundry Foundation, which he co-founded in 2015. He was the first VP of Apache Cloudstack, a platform he helped drive while leading Enterprise Cloud Services at SunGard and then as VP Product Strategy at Cumulogic. Prior to SunGard, he led the rebuild of mission-critical applications for organizations including,, Merrill Lynch and SEI Investments. Chip is an experienced speaker at events like OSCON, LinuxCon North America, LC Japan, LC EU, ApacheCon, O'Reilly Software Architecture Conference, and many more. In his free time, Chip loves trail hiking with his black lab, sailing catamarans and sunfish, and trying to keep up with his young daughter.

Published Monday, November 23, 2020 7:53 AM by David Marshall
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