From Kubernetes to Security: Infrastructure and Ops Trends to Watch in 2021
February 01, 2021

Mike Loukides
O'Reilly Media

Developers today are faced with the hard reality that modernizing systems is more than simply moving technology to a new location. Rather, they are expected to be intimately familiar with a host of new-generation technologies while simultaneously managing existing legacy systems as they migrate to an infrastructure that is more responsive, predictive, and scalable. Looking ahead to 2021, let's review the trends surrounding the most challenging, yet promising, topics in infrastructure and operations: Kubernetes, site reliability engineering, security, and more.

Kubernetes Complexity

To say that Kubernetes is the leading container orchestration platform is an understatement. It's the only container orchestration platform that counts. However, to say that Kubernetes is complex is also an understatement. The learning curve is both steep and long.

How will developers address Kubernetes' complexity? We are starting to see some simpler alternatives for specific use cases.

For example, K3S for edge computing, which effectively tackles the compute layer by orchestrating the infrastructure and workloads running at the edge. 

Will that trend continue? Or will Kubernetes be subsumed into cloud providers' management consoles in a way that simplifies the options available to developers? While this has yet to be revealed, an important trend for the next year will be attempts to simplify cloud orchestration.

Site Reliability and Observability

Look out for a heavy focus on system observability and its benefits

The sea change in workplace dynamics brought about by COVID-19 has had a parallel effect on the world of site reliability engineering. Companies for whom an online presence was an afterthought are now finding it essential to survival.

They're also finding it necessary to keep their online presence available at all times. Because of this, there will likely be an increase in the demand for site reliability engineers (SREs) — and thus an emphasis on the tools that SREs need.

Look out for a heavy focus on system observability and its benefits: high-speed, actionable data allowing engineers to understand, prevent, and mitigate outages. Although it's only part of the story, there will be a growing interest in OpenTelemetry, a vendor-neutral standard for collecting system data that promises an array of more refined and calibrated open-source tools for observability in the years ahead. 

Cyber Resilience

Claiming that cyber threats will increase — and that attacks will become more dangerous — hardly qualifies as a prediction or a trend. The sophisticated cyberattacks that compromised the US Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security departments are, sadly, hardly surprising. What's more important is how organizations respond to those threats.

In the past, most companies have taken a reactive approach to security: address breaches as they happen and, if nothing happens, they've spent too much time on security. That approach has failed time and time again. Companies must begin to take a dynamic, holistic approach that strengthens their security posture.

Steps towards resilience include having a robust Identity and Access Management policy by implementing zero trust, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and password-less authentication. There will be an increased use of AI and machine learning (ML) by both good and bad actors. Bad actors will use AI to find and exploit new vulnerabilities, while security teams will use AI and ML tools to detect and block attacks, as well as automating routine tasks.

Multi-Cloud and Hybrid Clouds

The cloud is a capability, not a destination

It's too easy to think of "the cloud" as a place: a single virtual location, with a single provider. As IBM has said frequently, the cloud is a capability, not a destination. By the time most companies start thinking seriously about a "cloud strategy," they already have pilot projects in multiple clouds. 

Mergers and acquisitions complicate the situation even more, as does data that has to remain on-premise for regulatory or security reasons. What counts isn't moving applications to a specific provider, but rather having a uniform interface that enables capabilities regardless of physical location. 2021 will be the year that companies adopt multi- and hybrid clouds, removing the operational and developmental barriers between their own, on-premise IT and cloud providers. This year, we will discover what it really means to be "cloud-native."

While application development will no doubt continue to evolve, monitoring for these trends will help DevOps teams focus on the most critical topics facing infrastructure and operations today — allowing them to make the right technical and business decisions that will prepare them and their companies for a successful future.

Mike Loukides is VP of Emerging Tech at O'Reilly Media
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