1. Continued melding of edge compute, uCPE, 5G and IoT
Telco operators invented network functions virtualization (NFV) to bring the power of the cloud to communications networks. NFV morphed into universal CPE (uCPE), which is rapidly becoming the preferred approach to providing communications services to enterprise locations. Now the evolution of virtualization continues with the emergence of edge cloud. It might take the form of running enterprise workloads on the same server used to host uCPE. Or it might be more sophisticated like the Cloud Satellite offering from IBM. It could be an application for 5G such as MEC. Another possibility is smart city applications, including security, traffic and IoT. All these applications share a common theme: open compute distributed throughout the access network, being used to host both communications applications (SD-WAN, firewall, SASE, 5G, etc.) as well as more generic workloads.
2. Resurgence of the Chinese
Huawei and ZTE have been on the ropes due to aggressive action by the US and the EU. But they are tough, they take the long view, and they are not going away. I predict they will claw their way back into several European markets in 2021. And they may even come to a truce with the US that allows deployment in limited applications.
3. Versa will finally be acquired
In my predictions for 2020, I said there were too many SD-WAN companies, and that acquisitions would continue apace. As expected, there were several big ones:
- Palo Alto acquired CloudGenix
- HPE acquired Silver Peak
- Juniper acquired 128 Technology
Who’s left among the pure-play SD-WAN? Looks like Versa, the open source company flexiWAN, and some smaller players. I think 2021 is the year where Versa gets taken out.
This year's reduction of in-person conferences and the increase in working from home may be permanent.
4. Covid-19 and the new normal for communications
A global pandemic like Covid may have long-lasting and unexpected effects on society. For example, the Black Death in the middle ages effectively ended feudalism. And that gave birth to the middle class and the Renaissance. In the case of Covid, the reduction of in-person conferences and the increase in working from home may be permanent. One obvious result is the increased demand for bandwidth and for collaboration tools. But what else could change? How do we work better together at a distance? One possibility is that low-cost and effective virtual reality may finally become available. Another is that regulators may relax rules on net neutrality to enable preferred treatment of voice/video packets to improve the user experience. Or there could be other changes we’re not even thinking about. But all these types of changes will drive the need for localized processing – and that means distributed compute in edge clouds.
5. Extension of data center cloud to the edge
Moving workloads to the cloud has many benefits, including scalable and on-demand compute power. But it comes with a cost in latency, security and data sovereignty. Major cloud operators now recognize that they need an on-site option to augment their data center offerings. Azure has Stack, IBM has Cloud Satellite, and AWS has Wavelength. Today all of these provide a hardware-heavy model of deployment that involves multiple physical servers. I expect we’ll see a move towards a virtualized approach where the local cloud hosting will run as a virtual machine or container hosted on an edge cloud that is also hosting communications services.
A new year, a new start
Recognizing a new year is symbolic. We flip the calendar page, start a new budget, resolve to exercise more. But it’s also an opportunity to reset and make a fresh start. Let’s all take that opportunity and make 2021 not just a new year, but a happy one.