buchachon - Fotolia

Channel technology trends 2017: Cloud, cybersecurity and automation

Channel partners can expect to see plenty of activity next year in cloud computing, multicloud in particular, as well as cybersecurity and IT automation.

When it comes to channel technology trends, 2017 seems likely to showcase some familiar developments -- with a few novel twists.

Interviews with industry executives and market analysts point to cloud computing, cybersecurity and IT automation ranking among the top trends channel partners will be dealing with next year. Although these technologies were vitally important in 2016, as well, their evolutionary trajectories will generate opportunities, and a fair amount of challenges, for partners in the coming months.

The following is an overview of technology trends and a discussion of the effects they'll have on the channel.

From cloud to multicloud

Cloud has been a pivotal trend for a few years now, and that doesn't appear likely to change in 2017. But some aspects of the cloud are changing. To wit, the traditional objections to the cloud are diminishing, while a wider array of companies are committing even their core business applications to the cloud.

Ravnish Bhalla, founder and CEO, TechnossusRavnish Bhalla

Ravnish Bhalla, founder and CEO of Technossus LLC, a technology solutions provider based in Irvine, Calif., said he sees midmarket companies that once balked at moving to the cloud becoming willing to migrate. Just a couple of years ago, he said, such companies saw cloud migration as too great a risk for their line-of-business applications.

"Now they ... are not concerned around security or access to data," Bhalla said. "All of those concerns have disappeared."

Bhalla said he expects to see companies continue to invest in moving IT assets to the cloud in 2017.

Another shift: Businesses aren't just turning to a single cloud provider for hosted IT services. Multicloud deployments are taking off among channel partners' customers.

"Customers are definitely pursuing a multicloud strategy," said Greg Pierce, chief cloud officer at Concerto Cloud Services, a managed cloud provider based in Tampa, Fla. "In fact, we're seeing that in about 80% of cases."

Greg Pierce, chief cloud officer, Concerto Cloud ServicesGreg Pierce

Pierce likened customers taking a multicloud approach to consumers purchasing goods from several stores rather than making all of their purchases at a single big-box retailer with multiple departments.

"Savvy consumers want choice and specialization, and the same is true for cloud," he noted.

There are also cost benefits in multicloud. Pierce said companies deploying in the cloud find the monthly costs for running an application are five times higher than what they expected. A multicloud approach, however, lets customers transfer workloads around, helping them to avoid getting locked in to a single cloud provider and to optimize spending. The ability to shift workloads across multiple clouds lets customers "reach perfect equilibrium," Pierce noted.

Savvy consumers want choice and specialization, and the same is true for cloud.
Greg Piercechief cloud officer, Concerto Cloud Services

The proper disposition of workloads can prove challenging for organizations. A number of cloud services partners will enter 2017 with services, methodologies and tools to make that process easier for their clients.

Insight, for instance, has launched a Hybrid Cloud Assessment service that collects data from a customer's applications, and then offers a roadmap proposal on where they would best reside. The assessment uses data from three sources: data collected using IT tools from across the customer's infrastructure and network, interviews with the IT application owner, and interviews with the application business owner, said David Mayer, vice president of product management and software at Insight.

David Mayer, vice president, product management, software, InsightDavid Mayer

The IT application owner interview yields a "technical weight," which focuses on factors such as the cost of running and maintaining the application. The business interview provides a "functional weight," which determines the strategic value of the application to the organization. The data is then fed into an Insight-developed tool that applies algorithms to come up with a set of recommendations for the roadmap.

"That is really the last mile, and where we feel we provide value to the client," Mayer said.

Datalink Corp., meanwhile, has been developing and refining a workload analysis methodology for customers interested in shifting to the cloud, said Jason Anderson, chief architect at the company. Anderson said the methodology takes advantage of Datalink's experience in running workloads in the public cloud and learns about what works well in the cloud and what doesn't.

"We are learning how to apply that wisdom to more workloads," he said.

[Editor's note: Insight is in the process of buying Datalink, with the deal scheduled to close in 2017.]

In addition, Concerto has developed a Cloud Application Criticality Matrix. The matrix shows how different levels of cloud availability translate into downtime and aims to help clients assess cloud options to gauge acceptable risk for a given workload.

Lief Morin, president, Key Information SystemsLief Morin

Lief Morin, president of Key Information Systems Inc., said helping clients to assess their needs in the cloud will be a major focus for the company in 2017. According to Morin, cloud computing is now less about new technology solutions and has more to do with new methods of consumption and collaboration that can add business value: an increase in revenue, a decrease in costs or an elimination of risk.

"This is the No. 1 priority ... this year -- helping clients to evaluate and address cloud solutions in a thoughtful and valuable way," Morin said.

Cybersecurity technology trends: 2017 developments

IT security is also expected to rank among the leading technologies for channel partners next year, as the sophistication and persistence of attacks show no signs of easing.

"It is on the top of every CIO's list," Morin said of security. He suggested the threat environment has become something of a free-for-all.

"What used to be a matter that would be resolved by the tech equivalency of the standards of The Geneva Convention, where everyone would play by the civil rules of behavior and 'just steal data,' now has become, as one client put it, about business terrorism and blunt attempts to disrupt commerce and damage brands," Morin said.

Against this backdrop, industry executives predict technology for bolstering a security operations center (SOC), an enterprise's focal point for resisting cyberattacks, will see a heightened level of activity next year.

Greg Kushto, director of security, Force 3Greg Kushto

"We will start to see more products focus around running, operating and maintaining an SOC," said Greg Kushto, director of security at Force 3 LLC, a network security company based in Crofton, Md. "Some [products] do it now, but it will be a huge focus going into next year."

These products may be referred to as SOC automation or SOC governance, depending on the vendor. Such product sets "allow you to plan out and create a coordinated response to attacks and, hopefully, automate how you respond to those attacks," Kushto said.

Today, SOC automation is often done through an IT ticketing system, according to Kushto. But he said more SOC-specific products will reach the market soon.

Trace3 Inc., an IT solutions provider and consulting firm based in Irvine, Calif., will focus on delivering the next-generation SOC as one thrust of its recently launched Security Business Unit.

"The next-gen SOC is an exciting conversation right now as the promise of automation and machine learning start to become more of a reality in security operations," said Tony Olzak, Trace3's vice president of security.

Trace3's SOC of 2020 consulting offering aims to incorporate machine learning, deep integration of tools and comprehensive automation, he added.

In general, machine learning will play a bigger role in IT security next year, according to Olzak.

"In 2016, most people were getting educated on the concepts, use cases were piloted and every vendor on the planet was using some flavor of it to increase the appeal of their products," Olzak said. "We're already seeing certain UEBA [endpoint and user and entity behavior analytics] companies establishing leadership, and that momentum should continue into next year. There are also some interesting open source projects that should start to mature."

As for other security technology trends, 2017 will see a continuation of the shift toward integrated product suites. Kushto said discussions over "best of breed versus capability suites" have gone back and forth, but the trend is now accelerating toward suites.

The shift to suites will continue as larger vendors, such as Cisco and IBM, purchase smaller companies and their tools, Kushto noted. He said the suite emphasis boils down to resources, both financial and human. On the financial side, it's less expensive to purchase two tools from the same vendor than from two different vendors. And on the human resources side, using tools from multiple vendors means having to train personnel on completely different products and multiple user interfaces.

In addition, cloud security will take its place alongside other technology trends next year. While cloud buyers appear less concerned with security, channel partners nevertheless will aim to make sure the appropriate measures are in place.

"We work with our manufacturing partners -- both hardware and software -- to craft the right solution for the hybrid and multicloud environment to address the security challenges they face," Morin said.

Automation to have lasting impact

When it comes to workforce-related technology trends, 2017 is poised to feature automation as a particularly important topic.

Bozhidar Hristov, senior analyst with Technology Business Research Inc., a technology market research company based in Hampton, N.H., said that while political developments such as Brexit and the Trump administration may have short-term effects on IT, automation will have a more lasting influence.

"Automation is the longer term impact, broadly speaking, for the workforce and the IT service industry," Hristov said.

Automation, he added, will leave its mark on IT services companies with respect to jobs and project pricing.

Automation will also play a role in cybersecurity next year, as security service providers struggle to sort through thousands of security events to identify the handful of actual incidents that need to be addressed. Kushto said automation can save personnel from the monotony of looking for the incident needle in the event haystack. The trend toward security suites will also facilitate automation.

"It is really the consolidation of products around single vendors that will continue to drive the automation message," Kushto said. "The continuing acceleration of automation is going to be huge going into next year."

Another aspect of automation, robotic process automation (RPA), has already started to transform IT service delivery in 2016. RPA, at present, is mainly used to execute routine steps and to automate repetitive functions, such as password reset requests. In the coming years, RPA will link up with big data and analytics to push the field in new directions.

Devin Gharibian-Saki, chief solution officer at Redwood Software, an RPA software vendor, said software robots will eventually be used to find patterns in data, a job humans do today.

As RPA takes on more of the big data slicing task, the human role will evolve from doing the analytics to defining the criteria for analysis, Gharibian-Saki noted.

David Schatsky managing director at Deloitte LLP, said the technology will begin intersecting with analytics in a couple of ways. Since RPA can collect data about the processes that are being performed and automated, it is possible to analyze that data to better understand the process. The ability to identify bottlenecks in a process, for example, will push RPA beyond simply executing a process, he added.

In addition, RPA creates an opportunity to plug a cognitive analytics capability into a process flow, such as the steps involved in determining what interest rate to give a loan applicant. According to Schatsky, RPA, in this role, can automate the decision-making piece of a process.

Remote monitoring and management (RMM) software, a form of automation familiar to managed service providers, is also undergoing a change. Vendors such as Autotask and ConnectWise are taking steps to more tightly integrate their product suites and to improve user interfaces.

Mobility is another RMM direction. Marius Mihalec, CEO and founder of Pulseway, an RMM vendor, called 2016 the year mobile-first RMM transitioned from a nice-to-have to a must-have feature. He said mobility in RMM will become "an ever-increasing imperative" in 2017 in light of distributed workforces and 24/7 business operations, which are expected to be the norm. 

Next Steps

How some companies are falling behind in cloud computing

How channel partners resell cloud-delivered security services

Dig Deeper on Emerging Technology Markets