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COVID-19 fuels global appetite for app modernisation, AI and edge computing

By Shannon Williams
Tue 9 Mar 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

COVID-19 has catalysed the speed and depth of the world’s digital transformation efforts, according to F5’s latest State of Application Strategy report.

 Now in its seventh year, the research features survey input from 1,500 respondents from a wide range of industries, organisation sizes, and professional roles.  

This year’s report strongly underlines how the need to improve connectivity, reduce latency, ensure security, and harness data-driven insights is intensifying. It also points to an elevated interest in cloud, as-a-service solutions, edge computing, and application security and delivery technologies. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has vastly accelerated a global digital transformation that was already underway. Progress that might normally have taken a decade has leapt forward in a single year,” says Lori MacVittie, principal technical evangelist, office of the CTO at F5. 

“In a short time, more organisations than ever have modernised and distributed applications—and the application security and delivery technology solutions that support them—closer to users," she says.

"Add to that the use of edge computing, and we’re starting to see incredible momentum for the emergence of truly adaptive applications that can grow, shrink, defend, and heal themselves based on the environment they’re in and how they’re being used.” 

App modernisation efforts double and AI adoption triples  

Since the last SOAS report, the adoption rate of AI and machine learning, a marker of late-phase digital transformation, more than tripled to 56%.  

Furthermore, 57% respondents embraced digital expansion, which is a 37% increase on last year. The latter shows an intensifying focus on business process automation, orchestration, and digital workflows, stitching together disparate applications to create seamless digital experiences. The same objective is being achieved through the use of APIs.  

There was also a 133% annual rise in respondents saying they are modernising internal or customer-facing applications, with 77% now doing so.  

On top of that, two-thirds were using at least two methods to create modern workloads (the combination of traditional and modern app components that result from modernisation). Of the respondents claiming to use only using one method, 44%, said that they were enabling modern interfaces, either via APIs or components such as containers. A mere 11%, mainly technology organisations, are exclusively refactoring applications.  

In other forward-looking developments, over half of respondents said they now treat infrastructure as code. The report shows that organisations using this approach are twice as likely to deploy apps more frequently, even when using automation. They are also four times more likely to have fully automated application pipelines, and twice as likely to have more than half of their application portfolios deployed using fully automated pipelines. 

Architectural trends and shifts 

The vast majority of organisations will continue to manage both traditional and modern applications and architectures. This expectation is supported by the 87% of survey respondents claiming that they now juggle both—an 11% increase over 2020. Nearly half of all organisations—30% more than last year—said they are managing at least five different architectures. 

According to almost half of the survey respondents, the pandemic was the main factor in accelerating movement to the cloud and SaaS. More than two-thirds of respondents (68%) are now hosting at least some of their application security and delivery technologies in the cloud. Simultaneously, organisations are positioning themselves to address the architectural complexity that results from adding SaaS and edge solutions, maintaining on-premises and multi-cloud environments, and modernising applications.  

Application security and delivery solutions were also in the SOAS spotlight. The critical roles these enabling technologies play in customer experience and service level agreements (SLAs) are now recognised by nearly four out of five respondents. SaaS-based security was identified as organisations’ top overall strategic focus over the next two to five years. 

Growing ambitions at the edge 

Edge computing is also set to attract plenty of attention in 2021.  As many as 76% of organisations surveyed say they have implemented or are actively planning edge deployments, with improving application performance and collecting data/enabling analytics as the primary drivers. Moreover, 39% believe that edge computing will be strategically important in the coming years, and 15% are already hosting application security and delivery technology at the edge. 

“Organisations are definitely starting to look at the edge with more purpose,” MacVittie says.   

“Cloud data centers, while supporting ubiquitous access, are only slightly more distributed than on-premises data centers. By contrast, the edge enables organisations to deliver applications closer to users. 

"In many ways, the edge is just the next step outward in an expanding universe of distributed applications, with benefits—and drawbacks— aligned with those of multi-cloud strategies. Data analytics represents a key edge use case, enabling the insights required for digital transformation initiatives.”  

Another edge use case highlighted by the SOAS report is the distribution of modern workers. More than a third (42%) will support a fully remote workforce for the foreseeable future. Only 15% plan to require all employees to return to the office.  

Organisations have data but lack insights and skills 

More than half of SOAS respondents believe they already have the tools they need to report on the health of high-priority applications. Nevertheless, an alarming 95% say they are missing insights from their existing monitoring and analytics solutions. 

Respondents agreed that the data collected by their tools is primarily used for troubleshooting, followed by early warnings about performance problems. Worryingly, a mere 12% report the data back to business units, whereas fewer than 24% of organisations use data and insights to watch for potential performance degradations. By contrast, when it comes to monitoring components that modernise apps, nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) are measuring performance in terms of response time.  

Conscious of a need to do better, over 80% of respondents said that data and telemetry are “very important” to their security plans, and over half are “looking forward” to the beneficial impacts of AI. 

Survey respondents also flagged platforms that combine big data and machine learning (also known as AIOps) as the second most strategic trend in the next two to five years. 

At the same time, that enthusiasm could be blunted by a lack of emerging, relevant skillsets in the market. This is particularly true for those identifying AIOps as their top strategic trend. Half of those respondents cited a paucity of skilled professionals as their number one challenge.  

The road ahead 

“Only organisations with the right combination of insights and automation will be able to sort through overwhelming data, recognise looming availability and performance issues before they occur, and act quickly enough to prevent them,” MacVittie says. 

“Until then, many won’t be able to take full advantage of their progress in digital transformation or generate additional speed toward AI-enabled businesses. 

"Ultimately, this will require an application strategy that includes application security and delivery technology solutions that follow the apps, even as deployments continue to be spread among multiple environments positioned nearer to users and at the edge.” 

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