Editor's note: This is the second installment of a two-part channel technology outlook feature. The first part covered trends in blockchain and AI. This article focuses on cloud computing as an emerging technology enabler, intelligent edge computing, technology for small businesses and IoT trends.
The cloud, the edge and the technologies attempting to link an expanding array of devices and computing models will share the spotlight in 2019.
That's the technology outlook industry executives and market researchers are forecasting. Whether it's technology for small businesses or an enterprise deployment, customers will be calling on IT service providers and cloud consultants to make sense of developments across a number of fronts.
Making cloud the innovation foundation
Cloud computing, multi-cloud management, in particular, will keep channel partners busy in 2019. But another cloud dimension is that of technology enabler.
Emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain require infrastructure and technical acumen. IT services executives suggested organizations will harness the investments cloud service providers such as AWS, Azure, Google and IBM have made at the cutting edge. Customers, to whatever extent they tap blockchain or AI next year, will probably do so using the cloud as the underlying infrastructure, delivery vehicle and development environment.
Siki Giunta, managing director, global strategy lead, journey to the cloud at Accenture, said the cloud as the "foundation of innovation" will be an important trend in 2019.
"Implementations for IoT, blockchain, AI [and] machine learning -- underpinned by cloud-specific architectures -- will be the default innovation architecture," she said.
"Combining artificial intelligence, machine and deep learning, IoT and a multi-cloud approach, gives a company the ability to do complex things," added Miha Kralj, managing director of cloud strategy, architecture and delivery at Accenture.
Deloitte's "Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2019" report, meanwhile, cited cloud as the springboard for AI adoption: "Cloud-based software and platforms help companies benefit from AI, even if they lack the expertise to build and train systems, or to manage data on their own."
Among AI adopters, 70% will access AI via cloud-based enterprise software, the Deloitte report noted. Sixty-five percent will use cloud-based development services to build AI applications.
Moving toward intelligent edge computing
In 2019, edge computing will continue its expansion toward greater intelligence -- what Gartner terms the "empowered edge" and Microsoft describes as the "intelligent edge."
Dhyan Raj, principal of technology at Synechron, a digital, business consulting and technology services firm based in New York, said edge computing will spark more conversation in the coming years. He said interest in the technology will stem from the millions of new devices being added to the internet and overwhelming connectivity in the process.
"The requirement to push the computing power nearer to the request is ever more in demand," he said.
Raj said edge computing works in opposition to the principles of cloud computing, in which data is often collected from end devices and sent to a remote server for processing. With edge computing, the processing takes places at the end devices. This approach addresses the cloud's latency problem, enabling mission-critical applications such as self-driving cars, he explained.
In the case of the self-driving car, any delay in communication between the car's array of sensors and a remote server, which makes a driving decision and relays it to the car for action, could prove catastrophic, Raj noted. But if the collected sensor data is locally processed, driving actions can be taken even without an internet connection. Sensors and other devices comprising the internet of things can become the intelligence of things, according to Raj.
Gartner ranks the empowered edge as one of its top 10 strategic technologies for 2019. The company said it anticipates a steady increase in the embedding of sensor, storage, compute and advanced AI functions in edge devices through 2028.
"In general, intelligence will move toward the edge in a variety of endpoint devices, from industrial devices to screens to smartphones to automobile power generators," Gartner reported.
For channel partners, intelligent edge computing could prove an interesting counterpoint to their cloud businesses.
Connecting technology for small businesses
As channel partners evaluate plays around emerging technology, firms that target the small and medium-sized business (SMB) space should be attuned to customers' evolving priorities.
According to Anurag Agrawal, CEO of Techaisle, an SMB market research firm in San Jose, Calif., 2018 for SMBs was all about optimization, which meant looking at ways to improve organizations' IT and business processes and adding efficiencies. SMBs also invested in mitigating risks and protecting their data.
Entering 2019, however, SMBs are now largely focused on tying everything together, he said. This means linking up the various technological components within their organizations so they function as an interconnected platform. Channel partners can help customers make technology for small businesses more cohesive.
"SMBs are saying, 'I now have all of these things in place. How do I have a connected business?'" Agrawal said.
Anurag AgrawalCEO, Techaisle
Techaisle has dubbed this connected framework the "Interwork" platform.
The Interwork platform spans technologies such as edge devices, cloud applications, security products and collaboration tools, as well as data analytics, with the aim of making the insight generated from these tools accessible across the organization, Agrawal said. "All these things are extremely important for the SMBs" because they understand the potential upshot: business growth, reduced operational costs and new customer acquisition, among other benefits, he noted.
Within this context, Agrawal advises SMB-targeting partners invest in the following five areas in 2019:
Digital workspaces. "The digital workspace becomes that common, unified platform for the SMB, where an employee" can access all their applications without having to exit the workspace, he noted.
Integration. Integration is an important piece of enabling SMBs to become connected businesses. He said the work could include integrating cloud-to-cloud applications, cloud and on-premises applications, and different types of infrastructure technologies.
Orchestration. In the SMB space, orchestration means something more than purely cloud orchestration, Agrawal said. He said that SMBs need partners' help in selecting the technologies and architecting IT solutions "to gain the maximum agility toward the goal of connected business."
Data. In addition to investing time and resources into understanding the data that is collected and going through SMB organizations, partners should learn how to best harness the data and connect data sources to provide customers with organizational insight, he said.
AI. Interest in AI has grown within the SMB space, he said. As a result, customers are now asking themselves, and their partners, how they might deploy the technology.
Integrating technology for small businesses could open doors for channel partners, but also overwhelm them. For the typical, modestly sized channel partner, embracing all five of these SMB technology trends may be unfeasible, Agrawal acknowledged. However, partners should consider digging into at least one or two of the areas and partnering up with other channel firms for skill sets and expertise in the areas they lack coverage.
He suggested the first step for partners would be to segment their current client base and identify which of the five areas are most pertinent to customers' business goals.
Coming to grips with IoT
The much-hyped field of IoT is poised to generate more channel activity in 2019, but mainstream IoT adoption likely remains a ways off.
Telecom Brokerage Inc., or TBI, a master agent and technology distributor headquartered in Chicago, said its partners are currently learning about IoT, the lay of the land and how 5G could play into opportunities. TBI partners include value-added resellers, managed service providers, systems integrators, telecom consultants and referral partners.
"IoT is one of those things -- it is similar to blockchain right now -- where everybody wants to learn about it," said Dave Landsberger, director of training and events at TBI.
"There is not as much [in terms of] practical applications," he added. "We do have a couple of applications that we can resell as part of an IoT initiative ... but it is not like these sales" are comparable to sales of more established offerings such as unified communications as a service.
Landsberger said IoT has become a reality in certain vertical industries, such as manufacturing and logistics, but despite the broad enthusiasm, it isn't seeing more mainstream adoption.
"I think there are some dollar signs in people's eyes, obviously, but right now what I'm not seeing, just personally, is the practical application at the midmarket, small business level when it comes to IoT. Enterprise level, yes."
Mainstream IoT adoption, Landsberger believes, will be contingent upon the rollout of 5G. "You can't really have IoT across all different types of enterprises and midmarket [businesses] and SMBs, until you get people off of 4G," he said. "I would say mass adoption of IoT ... definitely hinges on 5G's success."
Other barriers to adoption include the fact that few enterprises run regimented data management practices. Lacking these, organizations would struggle to handle the "massive amounts of data" collected via IoT deployments, he noted.
In the meantime, customers' need for better data management capabilities opens up a channel opportunity. Partners can help their customers "define what data integrity looks like" and manage databases so that they can prepare their organizations for IoT and 5G, "when the shoe really drops," he said.