Challenges and Opportunities for 2021: SoCal AFCOM Q1 2021 Virtual Meeting

Thanks to the effect of the pandemic, 2021 presents unique challenges and opportunities for IT organizations. In their Q1 update, SoCal AFCOM examined what the future is going to look like. A major theme of the conversation, as highlighted by IDC’s predictions for 2021, is that the ability of IT organizations to rapidly adapt and respond to business disruptions will be the driving force for success in this increasingly digitized economy.


The pandemic took the digital economy to the next level, including a rapid shift to cloud-centric infrastructure underlying IT and business initiatives. According to Network Computing, the most important trend accelerated by the pandemic is hybrid multi-cloud infrastructure for Data Centers.

Gartner notes that by 2022, infrastructure will be everywhere and so will data: predicting that more than 50% of enterprise data will be created and processed outside the Data Center or cloud, up from less than 10% in 2019. Adding this kind of complexity to the infrastructure makes it harder to manage and adjust the budget.

Enterprises moved to multi-cloud to ensure business resiliency and to adapt to the sudden move to remote workforces. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, so this move creates issues for managing and operating the infrastructure. IT teams will have to decide how to effectively and efficiently distribute investment and attention between on-premise and cloud infrastructure. This will require a flexible approach from both IT and the business units; and the ability of the CIO to successfully communicate to business stakeholders the meaning and implication of cloud deployments.

Cloud is also playing into the conversation about modernization. Many organizations kicked that can down the road and because of it faced hurdles with the rapid shift to digital last spring. Now is the time to look at older solutions and identify which systems make sense to modernize now, to ensure business resiliency and to keep pace with the new economic reality. And right now is the time to do it with the least amount of risk—organizations have fewer customers than they can expect to have one, two or three years from now, meaning disruptions will impact the fewest number of customers. In addition, the pandemic has given permission for things to be less than perfect, with an understanding that everyone is doing the best that they can. Customers may be more lenient of upheavals from any modernization initiatives in the short term because of this.

Data Centers

Data Centers are the heart of the pandemic-era digital economy. Yet despite the increased reliance on these facilities and their importance for business and life, some Data Center owners and operators failed to follow best practices. According to Ponemon Institute research, downtime is still happening too often, in part because Data Centers are not using best practices for design and redundancy, for both core Data Centers and Edge facilities.

Core Data Centers experienced, on average, 2.4 total facility shutdowns per year and an additional 10 downtime events isolated to specific racks or servers. And the average downtime in a core Data Center rose to 138 minutes, up from 130.

Edge Data Centers played an increasingly big role in the COVID-era, bringing compute power and storage closer to users to improve response time and meet the real-time needs of consumers and enterprises. Yet Ponemon reports that the frequency of total facility shutdowns was higher with Edge—about 5.39 over 24 months; though at 45 minutes, the average duration of the outage was less than half of core Data Centers. Edge Data Centers struggle with having enough resources to restore operations after an unplanned outage, often due to the remote location of an Edge facility.


The IDC predictions note that pandemic-inspired workforce changes will continue. They will drive business model changes and edge-driven investments, as organizations commit to technical parity and embrace hybrid workforce models—with both in-person and remote employees by design.

Forrester expects remote work to settle at a minimum of 300% of pre-pandemic levels. As the workforce remains remote and switches to hybrid models, IT organizations will need to be more intentional about the technology they deploy and how to ensure remote workers can get the job done. Businesses will need to rethink what the experience is like for employees—from the technology side, but also acknowledging the impact on career development, and then remodeling what work means.

Remote work has implications for hardware and software applications and ensuring employees have the right equipment available in their location. It also is a significant cybersecurity challenge, as home systems extend the network perimeter, which needs to be protected. In addition, the pandemic has expanded the type of employees companies were willing to hire. With a more relaxed approach to onboarding remote employees, some companies have hired workers who will never become in-office staff due to their physical location. This benefits companies by enabling them to identify top talent, and also increases competition as more enterprises are hiring remotely around the globe.

The pandemic will impact businesses for years to come; there will be no sudden shift to a return to the pre-2020 normal. IT organizations that strengthen and build relationships with the business, and are flexible, will position their organizations for success.

The pandemic created some unique challenges, and also presents opportunities for IT organizations. The effects of this past year will impact businesses for years to come; there will be no sudden shift to a return to the pre-2020 normal. As we move closer toward the next new normal, it’s time to think about what the return to work environment will look like. It’s time to think about the people and strategies that will continue the positive shifts from the changes to the economy and overcome the difficulties that were revealed—to evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and to make intentional decisions about next steps.

For one thing, business can no longer legitimately think of IT as only a back-office function. The pandemic put it front and center for most organizations. The job of IT now is to not lose momentum—by understanding where the organization and customers are heading and how IT can help achieve that goal. This requires rethinking the role of IT and working more closely with executive teams and business staff, and building off of relationships built from necessity during this crisis. The emergency of the pandemic showed that it’s possible to shift IT from a service business to one that is integral to the business.