By Maurice Mortell, managing director Ireland and emerging markets, Equinix
All technology companies focus on the future, but as the interconnection junction between network providers, cloud providers and the enterprise, Equinix has a unique perspective on IT trends and where things are headed. We also work daily to discern where and how our 9,500-plus customers will need to access the interconnection and data centre solutions and services we know they’ll need to grow. This all gives us uncommon industry insight and helps inform our annual predictions. Here’s what we see coming in 2018:
2018 Prediction #1: Private blockchain networks take hold and multiply
The public blockchain at the heart of various cryptocurrencies is very different from the private blockchain we see appealing to more companies in 2018. The key difference is that private blockchain networks are “permissioned,” rather than open, so private blockchain networks have more secure digital identity management, greater levels of trust and the ability to permit far greater levels of transactional throughput. Gartner advises enterprises to look first to the private blockchain, which it calls “permissioned public ledgers,” noting they “have access controls owned/managed by rules, but still allow for a community.” Gartner believes blockchain technology “will lead to a reformation of whole industries.”
Organisations that provide blockchain networks for various business verticals will need to host blockchain ledger nodes in multiple distributed locations to ensure low latency. In addition, enterprises in some private blockchain networks need to simultaneously learn about the completion of time-sensitive blockchain transactions. Equinix enables this by bringing enterprises together inside developing blockchain ecosystems, and our global platform supports distributed, secure blockchain networks worldwide. Finally, at any given point in time, enterprises will be involved in multiple blockchain networks (e.g. supply chain, finance, etc.), and they will want their business systems to be located close to these different blockchain network nodes. The high network and cloud provider density at Equinix attracts both the blockchain network providers and the enterprises to create a synergistic blockchain ecosystem.
2018 Prediction #2: Artificial Intelligence-based applications surge into the mainstream
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has existed for six decades, but it’s just now going mainstream. Why? The advent of big data, AI-focused processors and deep-learning algorithms has enabled AI to power advances like smart homes, factories and cars, which have broad appeal. In April 2017, IDC forecasted that worldwide revenues for cognitive and AI systems in 2017 would reach $12.5 billion, and we see it making even deeper inroads into the mainstream in 2018. But AI systems need to interpret and fuse data from multiple sources, and they also need to be distributed, with model building happening in clouds and model deployment based at edge locations to satisfy real-time processing requirements. Regulatory bodies are also becoming more interested in ensuring AI apps comply with security and data residency laws. Equinix’s global footprint enables distributed core-edge AI deployments and makes it easier to keep data within regional boundaries. We are also well suited to create ecosystems of the different types of data brokers relevant to AI providers.
2018 Prediction #3: Internet of Things apps accelerate computing shift to the digital edge
Gartner expects the number of connected things worldwide to rise from 8.4 billion today to 20.4 billion by 2020. In 2018, as these devices multiply, the computation needs at the heart of the Internet of Things (IoT) will increasingly shift to the digital edge.
Maintaining low latency is one of the main reasons companies are moving large amounts of data from IoT devices closer to cloud processing and analytics at the edge. But placing interconnection at the edge will also save on network costs, as companies filter out volumes of useless IoT data near the source to gain the faster access to valuable insights needed by IoT-enabled innovations like smart hospitals. And in growing numbers of regions, data must be processed at the edge to comply with data residency requirements.
With nearly 190 data centres globally, Equinix can support the distributed IT architecture that IoT companies will need by acting as the interconnection aggregation point for the cloud- and wireless-related processing they require.
2018 Prediction #4: A new architecture for subsea cable systems becomes prominent
Subsea cables are a key component of the internet, as nearly all global data traffic touches one, and investment in new cables is increasing amid massive projected growth in that traffic. According to TeleGeography, global subsea cable construction costs are expected to exceed $2 billion in 2018 for the third straight year, after not topping $1 billion since 2012. During this building boom, we see a new architecture taking hold that will improve costs, deployment agility and interconnection benefits.
Advances in laser technology have enabled subsea cables to bypass cable landing stations on the beach and directly land in retail multi-tenant data centres like those Equinix operates. This means customers of subsea systems that land inside Equinix data centres that support this model get direct, low-latency access to the numerous industry ecosystems we host. That increases a subsea cable system’s appeal to its potential customers.
2018 Prediction #5: SDN/NFV technologies transform wide area networks
A fundamental shift in enterprise acceptance of software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) technologies is underway, and it’s changing how large enterprises architect their wide area networks (WANs) to increase their cloud access services. This shift will gain strength in 2018.
Enterprises can no longer afford to backhaul traffic on expensive MPLS networks from their branch offices to a centralised location, where they apply network security policies on physical networking gear before accessing the cloud. Instead, they are sending their traffic to regional hubs, including Equinix data centres, via more cost-effective SD-WANs technology. There, they are applying security policies on virtual network and security appliances that leverage NFV technologies.
IDC’s most recent forecast for the worldwide Datacenter SDN market noted it will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 25.4% between 2016 and 2021 when it will amount to nearly $13.8 billion. The SDN market is growing rapidly, and Equinix is prepared to continue enabling this fundamental change.
2018 Prediction #6: Companies look for a global data centre platform to meet emerging data sovereignty and auditing mandates
Several major data privacy, security and sovereignty regulations will be enacted in 2018, and all have major implications for businesses:
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) restricts data transfer in the EU to countries that are GDPR-compliant, which could affect transfers between EU companies and important international business partners.
Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT) reporting in the U.S. requires companies to log every securities transaction and ensure the accuracy of timing services at the nanosecond level.
The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID ii) in Europe imposes new reporting requirements and tests on investment firms.
The enforcement of GDPR and similar data sovereignty laws across the world will make it necessary for organisations to have data centres in multiple regions in order to store data locally. CAT and MiFID II laws also require organisations to log financial transactions at a granular level. This, in turn, makes it necessary for organisations to have a finely synchronised internal clock system across multiple data centres. Equinix’s global data centre footprint helps satisfy data residency requirements and provides consistent clock services across locations worldwide.
2018 Prediction #7: The multicloud trend leaves companies in need of hybrid IT platform
Gartner says “a multicloud strategy will become the common strategy for 70% of enterprises by 2019.” Respondents to an IDC survey two years ago put the percentage even higher – and the timeframe sooner – with 86% indicating that they would need a multicloud strategy by 2017 to complement their future business goals. As multicloud becomes more prevalent, we see an increasing enterprise need to bring its management under control on a hybrid IT platform.
Companies are distributing their applications over multiple clouds, based on the best cloud for the job. In addition, businesses are increasingly relying on redundant clouds to support business continuity and disaster recovery initiatives. This requires a multicloud strategy that can be deployed on a hybrid IT (on-premises and cloud) infrastructure. Equinix has more than 2,750 cloud and IT service providers distributed across its global interconnect and data centre platform, making us the place to develop a high-performance, reliable and secure hybrid IT cloud on-ramp platform.
2018 Prediction #8: Digital transformation (DX) platform strategies proliferate across enterprises
IDC describes a digital transformation (DX) platform as enabling the “rapid creation of externally facing digital products, services and experiences, while aggressively modernising the ‘intelligent core’ environment.’” And they predict that by 2020, 60% of all enterprises will embrace an organisation-wide DX platform strategy.
To accelerate this shift, we see DX platform companies investing more in open application programming interfaces (APIs) and customer/partner-facing development portals in 2018. An external-facing, API-enabled DX platform speeds up the development and integration of digital services and enables more intelligent tools for IT automation and orchestration. It also promotes innovation and faster time-to-market for new solutions. On DX platforms, businesses can collaborate within ecosystems made up of interconnected customers, service providers and business partners.
As companies make services available via an API-driven DX platform, many will have to satisfy performance, availability and security-related SLAs for it. Equinix’s global data centre footprint, high-bandwidth connectivity to network service providers and clouds, and an API-driven platform for SmartView and Equinix Cloud Exchange helps enterprises and providers meet their DX platform SLAs.
Read more about accessing the interconnection you need to thrive as a digital business, no matter what the future holds. Check out the Interconnection Strategy Guide.
 “IDC Spending Guide Forecasts Worldwide Spending on Cognitive and Artificial Intelligence Systems to Reach $57.6 Billion in 2021,” September 2017.
“Supply and demand,” Global Bandwidth Research Service, TeleGeography, 2017.
 “Datacenter SDN Moves Into the Early Mainstream, Growth Moderates Through 2021,” IDC, December 2016, Doc #US41313916
 “The Future of the Data Center in the Cloud Era,” Gartner, June 2015, Refreshed Sept. 2016