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As 2017 drew to a close, we decided that it would be a good time to look back at the year and ask what were the dominant technology trends over the year? Which emerging technologies staked their claim to mainstream adoption (and which ones came up short)? What were the biggest issues for the channel from a technology and business point of view?
Dominant technology trends
What we found with the responses to this question was that if you ask lots of different people for their opinion on something, don’t be surprised if you get lots of different answers.
Justin Sutton-Parker, partner director for Northern Europe at Citrix, has no compunction in naming cloud computing as the dominant trend. "The partner community started the year with an expectation that 20% of growth and business would come from cloud or cloud driven solutions. During our last partner executive club in December, our Red Bull Racing partners stated that over 40% of total business now involved cloud,” he reveals.
His view is echoed by Craig Joseph, COO at intY. “Unless you’ve spent 2017 with your head buried in the sand, you might have noticed that cloud technology has been the dominant technology trend,” he states. “We’ve seen all the major cloud providers achieve some frankly astonishing sales growth, particularly Microsoft Azure which has grown its market share faster than any of its major rivals.”
Petra Heinrich, EMEA vice president for partners and alliances at Red Hat, identifies cloud’s significance as “the underlying foundation for digital transformation” and highlights the emergence of “hybrid and multi-cloud scenarios which require appropriate, supporting technology”.
Security also came heavily to the fore in 2017. “We are increasingly seeing all types of organisations focus on security when they begin their transition to the cloud, and specify robust cloud security solutions as an integral part of their cloud services,” Joseph notes. “Channel partners and resellers that make cloud security a core part of their offering will be well-placed to grow their businesses and sell additional services to clients.”
Andy Brown, technical services director at Azlan UK, says that many organisations looked to managed security services as complexity outpaced the in-house knowledge and expertise of most IT teams. The shift “presented a huge opportunity for channel partners to capitalise on delivering security services to customers without the expertise or resources to tackle it themselves. By understanding the customer’s business environment, processes and policies, channel partners, supported by distribution, rose above the noise and differentiated themselves by personalising their security offering to the needs of the customer”.
Dave Sobel, senior director of community at SolarWinds MSP, agrees that security was “undoubtedly” the main trend of 2017. “With customers far more security aware, savvy MSPs made security a priority and promoted a layered security approach as the best way to keep attackers at bay,” he says. Some large organisations had “a truly terrible 2017” because of security failings but the channel was able to benefit as “thinking moved beyond security basics like a firewall and anti-virus, and on to more comprehensive solutions—such as risk intelligence and data recovery at the desktop level as well as at the server level”.
Andrew Stuart, managing director at Datto EMEA, agrees that the MSP business model gained further traction in the UK in 2017. "The complexities of juggling new and sophisticated downtime threats like ransomware, the uncertainty created through external factors such as Brexit, as well as more stringent data regulatory requirements and the media frenzy and reputation damage that can result in falling short of them means many [organisations] are now open to outsourcing”.
He believes that SMEs, in particular, are using MSPs that have the expertise and are able to provide ever-more innovative technologies and services as “a fast-track passage to sophisticated IT teams that would otherwise require substantial investment. This ensures businesses have consistency around their technology regardless of the changing environments they’re operating in”.
Paul Wrench, operations director at Astel Systems, describes 2017 as “a year of transition for many of Microsoft’s channel partners. Microsoft achieved the milestone of making more revenue from the cloud than from traditional licensing, thanks to strong support from the channel. These partners have been given the opportunity to play at the heart of the cloud ecosystem, to set their own pricing and support contracts, and to add value either directly or by working with ISVs. This is all good news”.
But it also brings risk and responsibilities. “The transition from licence providers to customer relationship managers is a mindset change and a systems transformation journey that needs direction and support if channel partners are to fully realise the opportunities and minimise the risk,” he warns.
Ian Kilpatrick, EVP cyber security at Nuvias Group, argues that cybersecurity “dominated the agenda for the channel during the year. With cyber security failures continually making national and international news, the channel has been in the spotlight with their customers requiring confirmation that their systems are secure”. Increased awareness of cyber security in the boardroom created “a strong silver lining for those partners who are skilled in cyber security”.
On the subject of security, he adds that GDPR “while dramatically overhyped by every vendor who has a solution to which GDPR could vaguely be attached”, has been a slow burner but sales growth started to ramp up in the last quarter.
Brown at Azlan also believes that 2017 proved business intelligence (BI) was “no longer just the preserve of enterprises with large budgets and dedicated data technicians. The technology has developed to the point where it’s accessible and within the reach of organisations of all types.” He claims that 2017 saw “enterprising channel partners access new technology and skills to enter new and lucrative markets, supported by distribution”.
Speaking from a storage perspective, Fujitsu UK & Ireland director of channel sales, Paul McLean obsesses that the increase in the amount of data being produced which drove a revival of the EMEA storage market in Q3 of 2017 was no surprise. "With data analytics being used to identify and prevent health risks, to biometrics security methods; the need to store and process data is higher than ever.” But organisations are looking for more capacity at a time when they have less money to spend on it. “Against this backdrop, we’ve seen a growth in demand for hyper-converged services in the channel, with organisations increasingly looking for out-of-the-box, fully virtualised solutions that give them greater value for money than traditional stacks.”
Emerging technologies that succeeded…and those that still have work to do
In terms of emerging technologies that broke into the mainstream in 2017, Sutton-Parker at Citrix says cloud has been the driving force behind the move to secure desktop as a service. SDWAN also “proved incredibly popular – despite a slow start for the first two quarters of the year – as partners and customers evaluated the options and business benefits which resulted in a spike later in the year”. He believes that IoT “is probably the one topic that didn’t move the needle as much as analysts predicted, but the data being produced by IoT is certainly driving analytics and this looks set to continue in 2018 and beyond”.
Apay Obang-Oyway, director of cloud & software at Ingram Micro UK & Ireland, says that there was “strong adoption” of IaaS in 2017, “with Gartner predicting further strong growth in 2018”. In terms of technology that didn’t quite do as well as expected, he highlight blockchain which “made less of an impact than expected, but many professionals in the industry still have hopes for it in the new year”.
Naresh Chouhan, EMEA marketing director at Tegile, points to the emergence of the NVMe standard as a significant development which demonstrated the ability of competitors to collaborate. “For the channel, the introduction of NVMe brought great opportunities to re-engage with customers and introduce and talk about this new technology and its implications on varying workloads. NVMe may not be for everyone right now, but it will become mainstream soon, perhaps pushing flash technology further down the storage technology scale and disk into more archive and back-up environments.
Joseph at intY says that cloud and network monitoring tools have become an integral part of cloud computing this year. Customers moving their IT services into the cloud want to know exactly how it is performing and not just blindly assume that everything is okay. Monitoring solutions offer crucial visibility, giving a detailed picture of application and network performance across all locations.
David Fearne, technical director at Arrow ECS, identifies machine learning as a technology that “has been at the heart of 2017” but, like most extremely disruptive technologies, “the social acceptance of the technology has been mixed in 2017”. APIs have moved from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have. One trend that hasn’t developed the way it was predicted was “data-driven decision making”. According to Fearne, “businesses have continued to struggle with how they extract data and use it effectively. However, although the use of dashboards is becoming more common-place in data-driven businesses, decision makers don’t have the confidence to implement these to an industrial scale quite yet”.