If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that things don’t always go as planned. But, it’s no secret that COVID-19 accelerated a myriad of changes that directly relate to the data center industry. Mission Critical magazine spoke to experts in all sectors of the industry to see what they think will transpire in the year to come.


“For service providers, 5G represents an opportunity to reduce the CAPEX significantly through network slicing, and the ability to create new services, but it also presents the challenge of balancing the price of innovation with a cost-effective business model. In 2021 there is a tremendous amount of work ahead to deploy the infrastructure necessary to handle the massive amounts of data that 5G enables. Thus, our tools and networks need to work more efficiently to meet these new infrastructure demands.” 
Laurent Marchand, CEO at Kaloom

“5G will continue building out infrastructure in addition to client devices. Even the Pentagon is supposed to open up more spectrum to carriers in 2021. That will probably make more consumer and enterprise edge solutions available and drive more AI data analysis.” 
Jeff Klaus, general manager of data center management solutions at Intel Corp. and a member of the Mission Critical technical advisory board

“For mission critical facilities, the transformation of electrical and mechanical equipment producing analog operating data to digital data is changing how we run our facilities.  Access to this digital data is impacting uptime and reliability due to the real-time information that is available, thereby allowing a predictive approach to maintenance.  These changes are gaining momentum, and critical mass has been reached in some industries.  As facility managers become comfortable with the idea of viewing system data remotely, they’re beginning to understand the value of knowing the condition of their electrical and mechanical systems in real time from any geographic location.  From predictive analysis to fault identification and remote operation and control, these devices are becoming valuable partners in the success of facility operations.  Success stories are starting to emerge on how connectivity has helped organizations reduce downtime, and, as usage increases, so will the success stories.  The continued growth in the connected asset market and the ability to connect legacy equipment for remote data monitoring will contribute to the massive changes that are sure to come with 5G.”
Wayne Pacheco, product support manager of the power systems division at Wheeler Machinery Co. and a member of the Mission Critical technical advisory board


Amid the growing cybersecurity skills gap, the broader theme in 2021 will be the increased adoption of technology that capitalizes on artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate key security functions. COVID-19 resulted in a massive, global shift to a remote workforce. However, next year we will enter a completely new normal when we start to see more workers return to the office while others, who are not yet able or willing to make the transition, remain home. This will result in a split that forces IT departments to handle the demands of both full-scale on-premises and full-scale remote access. The only way to be efficient in the new world of work will be to utilize solutions with automation capabilities instead of relying solely on in-house security teams. Companies will turn to newer technologies such as Zero Trust Network Access and Artificial Intelligence Markup Language (AIML) techniques to work smarter in leveraging their workforce.” 
Mike Riemer, chief security architect at Pulse Secure 

“Self-managing storage in data centers will become mainstream. Automation will expand as a critical component of storage systems to replicate data for disaster recovery, manage immutable copies of data, monitor hardware for potential failures, and proactively initiate replacement tickets. Enterprises will increasingly rely on automation to reduce outages and disruptions with predictive maintenance — ultimately saving costs, enhancing security, and adapting to evolving workload needs.” 
Jon Toor, CMO at Cloudian

“Following a scramble to effectively staff data centers during a pandemic, many wary managers are beginning to see remote monitoring and automation systems in a more positive light, including those driven by artificial intelligence. An adoption cycle that has been slow and cautious will accelerate. But it will take more than just investment in software and services before the technology reduces staffing requirements.” 
Rhonda Ascierto, vice president of research at Uptime Institute

Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance (BFSI)

“In 2021, we will see significant international growth in the open banking industry as it democratizes financial services. In recent years, Europe has been the center of a new movement toward customer-centric banking, but open banking is gaining momentum in the U.S. as well with Venmo and SoFi. Gen Z has grown up using opening bank apps to manage their personal finances rather than traditional banks. As a result, we will see an influx of software companies founded with the purpose of creating a new method for digital-first consumers to do banking. To keep up with the growing demand for these easy-to-use digital banking solutions, banks have now embarked on the same journey by introducing similar types of mobile apps.” 
—  Jasen Meece, CEO at Cloudentity

“It’s true that financial services firms are not breached as frequently as those in other industries. However, when financial firms are breached, these incidents tend to be much larger and more detrimental than those experienced by companies in other industries. For example, even though  7% of breaches in 2019 occurred at financial services companies, 62% of all records leaked in that same year were from financial organizations. With the projected rise of new  technologies — like 5G — throughout the new year, the sophistication of cybercriminals’ attacks will likely be enhanced. Consequently, it is imperative that financial organizations (and all companies in heavily regulated industries) take a proactive approach to data protection.” 
Anurag Kahol, CTO and co-founder at Bitglass 

“Cyber insurers will demand more robust data protection. Although cyber insurance will back enterprises up if a breach occurs, insurers will expect their customers to do everything possible to protect against one to minimize risk. It will be critical for enterprises to implement data storage with the right set of security protections to be eligible for cyber insurance and receive the best rates in 2021.”
Jon Toor, CMO at Cloudian

“More e-commerce platforms will accept cryptocurrency payments as the technology continues to become more mainstream. PayPal, the world’s leader in online payment processing, recently announced that it will support bitcoin transactions, while Square already supports bitcoin. Online retailers will follow the lead of these payment processors and begin accepting major cryptocurrencies.”
James Brear, CEO at Zycada  

Cloud Computing

As cloud adoption becomes more mainstream, we will see more repetitions of mistakes made in the past. For example, databases, storage containers, and other cloud services being configured incorrectly, along with permissions being too broad, allowing anyone access. In order for this to change, we will see more cloud-related breaches and attacks, as relatable events tend to trigger  changes in behavior.”
Jeremy Snyder, senior director of business development and solution engineers of cloud security at Rapid7 

Outsourcing the requirement to own and operate data center capacity is the cornerstone of many digital transformation strategies. But ask any regulator, any chief executive, any customer: You can’t outsource responsibility — for incidents, outages, security breaches, or even — in the years ahead — carbon emissions. In 2021, hybrid IT, with workloads running in both on- and off-premises data centers, will continue to dominate, but investments will be increasingly divided. More will be spent on cloud and other services, as well as in on-premises data centers.”  
Andy Lawrence, executive director of research at Uptime Institute

“The term for 2021 will be cloud assessment exercises.  I believe that companies are realizing that cloud is a tool not a destination.  With a reported 97% of cloud misconfigurations going unreported, the jump to cloud services during COVID, and other companies realizing higher than expected billing from public cloud services, companies are going to be doing post mortems and due diligence with an eye toward cloud services and cloud spend.”
Carrie Goetz, principal and CTO at StrategITcom LLC and a member of the Mission Critical technical advisory board

“Public cloud and on-prem storage will merge. All public cloud providers now offer on-prem solutions, which positions public cloud and on-prem as environments that should work in combination rather than being viewed as an either/or decision. In addition, enterprise storage providers have upped their cloud game, building new solutions that work with the public cloud rather than competing with it. As both sides move toward the center, the inevitable result is that organizations will come to view public cloud and on-prem as two sides of the enterprise storage coin.”
Jon Toor, CMO at Cloudian

“Multicloud adoption will continue to accelerate through 2021. As organizations and managed service providers accelerate cloud initiatives to support remote work and learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they will gain a deeper understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each public cloud provider. After understanding the different types of applications that run better in which cloud, the need for adopting more than one cloud provider will become clearer.
“As digital transformation accelerates, the complex and self-service nature of cloud infrastructure makes it easy for mistakes to me made (e.g., access granted to users or machines that should never have been granted), and lack of visibility into the cloud makes these mistakes difficult to spot and correct. Because of this, identity and access management (IAM) for individual and machine users will be a top challenge in 2021. To make IAM digestible and manageable by humans and therefore avoid data exposure, organizations will increasingly implement cloud ownership guidelines and governance policies to visualize who — or what —has access to specific resources in the cloud.”
Keith Neilson, technical evangelist at CloudSphere


In 2021 and the following years, implementing a Zero Trust approach will become essential to protecting every enterprise, regardless of industry.”
— Jasen Meece, CEO at Cloudentity

MITRE ATT&CK is a globally vetted framework of known adversary tactics, techniques, and common knowledge (A. T. T. C. K.), a kind of periodic table that lists and organizes malicious actor behavior in an accessible, user-friendly format. But ATT&CK is not just a framework to understand adversary behavior: it is a tool for improving security effectiveness, and that trend is catching on and leading to a transformation in the cybersecurity community. The U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, The Australian Prime Minister’s Officer and many other governments have adopted ATT&CK in recent years, and we should expect ATT&CK to achieve greater prominence and utility in the coming years.”
Jonathan Reiber, senior director of cybersecurity strategy and policy at AttackIQ 

“In 2021, expect to hear about a jaw dropping data breach of consumer information due to poorly secured smart devices associated with some fast-growing or well-known company. Due to the nature of personalized data that IoTs have access to, this incident will make the Equifax breach look like some minor event.”
Gaurav Banga, CEO and founder at Balbix

“Ransom will be taken out of ransomware in 2021. As remote work and learning continues into 2021, ransomware attacks will become more manageable as enterprises will opt for immutable backup data repositories on top of perimeter security solutions. This ensures they can restore a clean copy of data in the event of an attack, without needing to pay the ransom. Ransomware will no longer be a potential catastrophe, causing downtime rather than an existential threat of date being held hostage for exorbitant sums.”
Jon Toor, CMO at Cloudian

Thus far, in 2020, a failure to figure out how to support remote work without exposing sensitive information has led to nearly 25% of organizations paying unexpected costs to address cybersecurity breaches and malware infections. If organizations don’t rethink their approaches to security, cybercrime will continue to evolve and exploit remote workers as the ideal entry points into corporate IT ecosystems.”
Anurag Kahol, CTO and co-founder at Bitglass 

Edge Computing

“Significant new demand for edge computing, fueled by technologies such as 5G, the IoT, and artificial intelligence, has been widely signaled. This demand is likely to continue to build slowly, but the infrastructure preparation is underway. Expect new alliances and investments to be made across enterprise, mobile, and wireline networks and for suppliers and operators to develop and deploy a wide range of innovative edge data centers — small and large. As the edge develops, smart and automated software-defined networks and interconnections will become as important as the physical infrastructure.”
Rhonda Ascierto, vice president of research at Uptime Institute

“The edge is finally going to come to fruition. I think COVID pointed out a need to have at least some compute close to your users. Companies that couldn’t travel to their operations will look to repatriate some of their data closer to corporate locations. It may not be all of their applications and data, but, certainly, I think we will see a balance and distance will become a requirement in part due to latency, in part due to accessibility.
“I think that the edge will have us rethinking 2N+1 as a default for redundancy.  It’s high time that facilities begin paying attention to the failover capabilities of the IT side inside the whitespace. The industry wastes so much power ‘just in case.’ With applications that fail over, we need to begin to look at the capabilities there and then build the right amount of facilities support instead of the other way around. If an application is distributed across 20 data centers, do they all really need dual power, network, storage, and a spare?  Of course not.”
Carrie Goetz, principal and CTO at StrategITcom LLC and a member of the Mission Critical technical advisory board

“For companies scaling smart factory initiatives in 2021, real-time availability of mission-critical workloads will be necessary to ensure business outcomes. Edge computing will complement existing cloud infrastructure by enabling real-time data processing where the work takes place (e.g., motors, pumps, generator, or other sensors). Implementing integrated analytics from the edge to the cloud will help these enterprises maximize the value of investments in digital systems.”
Keith Higgins, vice president of digital transformation at Rockwell Automation


“Despite budget-related adversity, CIOs must still close the digital transformation gap within their organizations. As such, convergence and simplicity will be key. CIOs will turn to technologies that integrate multiple services into one platform to recognize larger cost savings. For example, secure access service edge (SASE) platforms will have a major impact in 2021 as they will replace a number of disjointed point products and extend consistent protections to all enterprise IT resources through a single control point. In this way, CIOs will recognize massive cost savings, and IT teams will enjoy consolidated ease of management that will save them significant sums of time.”
Anurag Kahol, CTO and co-founder at Bitglass 

“The increasing density of sensors within IT devices will allow for broader inventory and component management in the data center. This will help customers easily monitor subcomponent changes in the vast server farms they remotely manage. It also provides an easy path to find computation ability (CPU quantity, RAM capacity, etc.) for deploying new applications to server clusters.
“In 2021, I predict the emergence of the XPU, not the CPU or GPU, but an accelerator with purpose-built compute. There have been several industry acquisitions in these areas, but the software ecosystem needs to adapt to support multiple hardware compute paths.”
Jeff Klaus, general manager of data center management solutions at Intel Corp. and a member of the Mission Critical technical advisory board


“2021 will start to the advent of the next level of environmental sustainability. The use of water, embodied carbon in materials and back-up generation will move to the forefront as the next frontiers of good stewardship with the environment.”
Chris Crosby, founder and CEO at Compass Datacenters and a member of the Mission Critical technical advisory board

“For many years, data center operators have been able to claim environmental advances based on small, incremental and relatively inexpensive steps — or by adopting new technologies that would pay for themselves anyway. But it is all about to get a lot tougher: Regulators, watchdogs, customers, and others will increasingly expect operators of digital critical infrastructure to provide hard and detailed evidence of carbon reductions, water savings, and significant power savings— all while maintaining, if not improving, resiliency. In 2021 and beyond, sustainability will mean greater scrutiny and will require proven results.”
Andy Lawrence, executive director of research at Uptime Institute

“Sodium-ion batteries will continue to take focus.  I think that companies will start looking at energy sources as part of their ongoing sustainability efforts.  Carbon credits and green credits simply won’t be enough.”
Carrie Goetz, principal and CTO at StrategITcom LLC and a member of the Mission Critical technical advisory board

Workforce Development

“Work from anywhere will continue to be an expectation even long after COVID. Probably the only good thing to come out of COVID is companies realizing that the world won’t fall in if people work from places that are not the office.  I also think that this is a great leveler for women in tech, as the attrition rate for women in tech fields is 67%. These aren’t women who leave a job, they leave tech entirely. One reason is that women tend to become caregivers, and tech schedules have not been friendly to women that need to stay home. Some occupations need to be on-site, but I think we will see some balance for those that may need to stay home with a sick loved one.”
Carrie Goetz, principal and CTO at StrategITcom LLC and a member of the Mission Critical technical advisory board

“A talent gap has existed in cybersecurity for years, making it difficult for organizations to recruit and retain the security professionals they need. However, as companies dealt with stay-at-home orders and a forced shift to remote work over this past year, it has become more and more obvious that people can perform their jobs from almost anywhere. This means companies can look at an expanded geographical pool of candidates for new hires in all business departments, not just security. And, with this increased globalization/dispersion, security must evolve to a more democratized approach where it is delivered at the edge and on the various endpoints used by the global workforce. 2021 will see the demise of the centralized security strategy.”
Keith Neilson, technical evangelist at CloudSphere