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As the year comes to a close, I often reflect and make predictions about what’s to come in the next. I’ve written end-of-year predictions posts in the past, but this is my first one at Cloudflare. I joined as Field CTO in September and currently enjoy the benefit of a long history in the Internet industry with fresh eyes regarding Cloudflare. I’m excited to share a few of my thoughts as we head into the new year. Let’s go!
“Never make predictions, especially about the future.”
— Casey Stengel
Adapting to a 5G world
Over the last few years, 5G networks have begun to roll out gradually worldwide. When carriers bombard us with holiday ads touting their new 5G networks, it can be hard to separate hype from reality. But 5G technology is real, and the promise for end-users is vastly more wireless bandwidth and lower network latency. Better network performance will make websites, business applications, video streaming, online games, and emerging technologies like AR/VR all perform better.
The trend of flexible work will also likely increase the adoption of 5G mobile and fixed wireless broadband. Device makers will ship countless new products with embedded 5G in the coming year. Remote workers will eagerly adopt new technology that improves Internet performance and reliability.
Companies will also invest heavily in 5G to deliver better experiences for their employees and customers. Developers will start re-architecting applications where more wireless “last mile” bandwidth and lower wireless latency will have the most benefit. Similarly, network architects will seek solutions to improve the end-to-end performance of the entire network. In 2022, we’ll see massive investment and increased competition around 5G amongst network operators and cloud providers. Customers will gravitate to partners who can balance 5G network adoption with the most significant impact and the least cost and effort.
The talent is out there; it’s “just not evenly distributed.”
For various reasons, large numbers of workers changed jobs this year. In what has been called “the great resignation,” some claim there’s now a shortage of experienced tech workers. I’d argue that it’s more of a “great reshuffle” and consequently a race to attract and hire the best talent.
Work has changed profoundly due to the global pandemic over the last two years. People are now searching, applying, interviewing, onboarding, and working entirely remotely. Anyone looking to change jobs is likely evaluating potential employers on the working environment more than they did pre-2020.
Jobseekers are evaluating employers on different criteria than in the past. Does video conferencing work reliably? How streamlined is access to the software and tools I use every day? Can I work securely from different locations, or do the company’s security controls and VPN make it difficult to work flexibly?
Employers must make working flexibly easy and secure to attract the best talent. Even small amounts of digital friction are frustrating for workers and wasteful for employers. CIOs must take the lead and optimize the fully-digital, flexible work experience to compete for the very best talent. In 2022, I predict technology and tools will increasingly tip the balance in the talent war, and companies will look for every technological advantage to attract the talent they need.
Cloud Simply Increases
To eliminate some strain on employees, companies will search for ways to simplify their business processes and automate as much as possible. IT leaders will look for tasks they can outsource altogether. The best collaboration software and productivity tools tend to be delivered as-a-service.
It’s easy to predict more cloud adoption. But I don’t expect most companies to keep pace with how fast the cloud evolves. I was recently struck by how many services are now part of cloud provider portfolios. It isn’t easy for many companies to train employees and absorb these products fast enough. Another challenge is more cloud adoption means CEOs are often caught off guard by how much they are spending on the cloud. Lastly, there’s the risk that employee turnover means your cloud expertise sometimes walks out the door.
I predict companies will continue to adopt the cloud quickly, but IT leaders will expect cloud services to simplify instead of adding more complexity. Companies need the cloud to solve problems, not just provide the building blocks. IT leaders will ask for more bang for the buck and squeeze more value from their cloud partners to keep costs under control.
I also look forward to CIOs putting pressure on cloud providers to play nice with others and stop holding companies hostage. We believe egregious egress charges are a barrier to cloud adoption, and eliminating them would remove much of the cost and frustration associated with integrating services and leveraging multiple clouds.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
— Albert Einstein
Security is only getting more complicated. Companies must embrace zero trust
Throughout 2021, Cloudflare observed a steady rise in bot traffic and ever-larger DDoS attacks. As an industry, we’ve seen the trends of more phishing attempts and high-profile ransomware attacks. The recent emergence of the Log4j vulnerability has reminded us that security doesn’t take a holiday.
Given the current threat landscape, how do we protect our companies? Can we stop blaming users for clicking phishing emails? How do we isolate bad actors if they happen to find a new zero-day exploit like Log4j?
The only trend I see that brings me hope is zero trust. It’s been on the radar for a few years, and some companies have implemented point-products that are called zero trust. But zero trust isn’t a product or industry buzzword. Zero trust is an overarching security philosophy. In my opinion, far too few companies have embraced zero trust as such.
In 2022, CIOs and CISOs will increasingly evaluate (or reevaluate) technologies and practices in their security toolkit through the lens of zero trust. It should not matter how invested IT leaders are in existing security technology. Everything should be scrutinized, from managing networks and deploying firewalls to authenticating users and securing access to applications. If it doesn’t fit in the context of zero trust, IT managers should probably replace it.
The security-as-a-service model will tend to win for the same reasons I predicted more cloud. Namely, solving security problems as simply as possible with the fewest headcount required.
The corporate network (WAN) is dead. Long live the (Internet-based) corporate network
I can’t pinpoint the official time of death of the corporate WAN, but it was sometime between the advent of fiber-to-the-home and 5G wireless broadband. The corporate network has long suffered from high costs and inflexibility. SD-WAN was the prescription that extended the corporate network’s life, but work-from-home made the corporate network an anachronism.
Video conferencing and SaaS apps now run better at home than at the office for many of us. And the broader rollout of 5G will make things even better for mobile users. Your old VPN will soon disappear too. Shutting down the legacy VPN should be a badge of honor for the CISO. It’s a sign that the company has replaced the castle-and-moat perimeter firewall architecture and is embracing the zero trust security model.
In 2022 and beyond, the Internet will become the only network that matters for most users and companies. SaaS adoption and continued flexible work arrangements will lead companies to give up the idea of the traditional corporate network. IT leaders will likely cut budgets for existing WAN infrastructure to invest in more effective end-user productivity.
Matters of Privacy
Social media whistleblowers, end-to-end encryption, and mobile device privacy were on the minds of consumers in 2021. Consumers want to know whom they’re buying from and sharing data with, are they trustworthy, and what these companies do with the collected data?
Data privacy for businesses is critical to get right due to the scope of the privacy issues at hand. Historically, as some digital enterprises grew, there was a race to collect as much data as possible about their users and use it to generate revenue. The EU Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has turned that around and forced companies to reevaluate their data collection practices. It has put power back into the hands of users and consumers.
GDPR is just one set of rules regulating the use of data about citizens. The US, EU, China, Russia, India, and Brazil have different views and regulations on privacy. Data privacy rules will not evolve the same everywhere, and it will be increasingly difficult for companies to navigate the patchwork of regulations around the globe.
Just as security is now a part of every software delivery stage, privacy needs to be considered throughout the development process. I predict that in 2022 and beyond, companies will architect applications with privacy laws in mind from the outset. About a year ago, we announced Cloudflare Data Localization Suite, which helps businesses take advantage of our global network's performance and security benefits while making it easy to set rules to control where their data is handled automatically.
Another trend that spans the domains of privacy, security, and remote work is user preference for a single device for both personal and work-related activities. Carrying two or more devices is a hassle, but maintaining privacy and security on an unmanaged device presents challenges for IT. We will move away from the traditional tightly controlled, IT-managed device with time. Browser isolation and the evolution of zero trust security controls will get us closer to this holy grail of end-user device independence.
We have much to be thankful for, even with the challenges we’ve all faced in 2021. 2022 may well be as challenging as this year has been, but I predict it will be a great year, nonetheless. We’ll work hard, learn from our mistakes, and ultimately adapt to whatever life and work throw at us. At least that’s my plan for next year!