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Podcast transcript: Looking back on 2021

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Podcast transcript: Looking back on 2021

This automatically-generated transcript is taken from the IT Pro Podcast episode ‘Looking back on 2021’. To listen to the full episode, click here. We apologise for any errors. 

Adam Shepherd  

Hi, I'm Adam Shepherd, and you're listening to the IT Pro Podcast. It's Christmas once again, and while hopefully all our listeners are spending the holidays with their loved ones. for us here at IT Pro, it's time for our annual look back over the last 12 months in tech. At the start of the year, we predicted - over optimistically, as it turns out - that COVID-19 would still be with us for at least the first quarter of 2021. And sure enough, the ongoing impact of the pandemic has been the major trend that continues to hang over the rest of the year's events. But what else has been happening in the wider world of IT? I'm joined this week by staff writers Bobby Hellard and Connor Jones, where we'll be discussing the highlights and trends of 2021.

Bobby Hellard  

Hello. 

Connor Jones  

Hello.

Adam  

So I think it's fair to say that the last year has been almost as eventful as 2020 when it comes to tech. VMware spun off from parent company Dell, the Department of Defense's controversial JEDI contract was scrapped. And just to round out the year, a lovely new vulnerability was discovered in the form of Log4j. So yeah, it's it's been something of a, something of a roller coaster, I think, for most of us.

Bobby  

it does kind of feel that the year's flipped around. So we started with restrictions. We're now back in restrictions. It's only really the middle that was any different.

Adam  

Yeah, it was like a nice holiday. 

Bobby  

Yeah. 

Adam  

A nice holiday where we could go outside.

Connor  

The bit I've just taken from that is that you've just called it 'log-forge'. Is that the actual pronunciation of it? Because I felt, I've just been saying 'log-four-jay'.

Adam  

It's, I've seen I've seen people debate this. I've seen some people argue that it's supposed to be called 'log forge'. I've seen people say that it's supposed to be called 'log four jay'. I think 'log forge' sounds cooler. So I'm going with that. But I think it's, I think it's one of those things where it's basically up to you.

Connor  

Right, Fair enough. Fair enough.

Adam  

So, Bobby, let's start with you. What do you think the most significant trend of 2021 has been?

Bobby  

So I was going to say the return to work. But actually, I think it's more the idea of return to work because it didn't fully happen. We're now back in. We're back with guidance to work from home if we can. And it just seems weird because all these big tech companies in their hybrid work software, they they've had massive changes to Microsoft Teams, to Slack, to Zoom, to suit us going back into the office. We largely didn't. It's a weird topic for me to bring up because I literally did not go back into the office this year. It is a biot of a weird one.

Adam  

Yeah, I've out of the two of you, I think I'm the only one that has set foot in the office this year.

Bobby  

Have you not been in at all, Connor? 

Connor  

No, yeah, I went in a couple of weeks ago. Yeah. And it's weird cause I think, Adam, you probably live closest, out of the three of us.

Adam  

Yeah, the remote working thing has certainly been on the minds of most kind of CIOs and IT departments this year, I think it's fair to say, at the start of the year, there was a lot of debate as to whether or not going back to the office was necessary and kind of what what level of return organisations wanted. And that kind of all those preparations and refitting offices, because that's that was another major thing. It wasn't just going back to how it was before. It wasn't really, it was a return to the office. But it wasn't a return to any of the kind of working practices that we had pre pandemic, a lot of organisations were looking at things like hybrid meetings, and you know, using offices much more for collaboration and brainstorming rather than just you know, getting people in and sitting them at desks. And of course, that's all a little bit moot now.

Bobby  

Yeah. I've thought Zoom did some weird things because they actually launched hardware specifically for hybrid meetings and that kind of thing. And really,  if they'd just left it as the software they would have been fine, because we still need it as it is.

Adam  

Yeah, that that kind of collaborative meeting room hardware is quite interesting, I think, because it's one of those things that I do, I do genuinely think it makes more of a difference than people generally appreciate. You know, I'm sure we've all had virtual meetings where you know, some of the participants connections and you know, microphones and cameras are just awful. You know, they sound like they're dialling in from the bottom of a well in the middle of a hurricane. And it ends up being very distracting, ends up meaning that they often don't contribute as much as they, as they maybe could or, you know, in the worst case scenario actively holds up proceedings while they have to repeat themselves eight or nine times. So investing in decent audio visual technology for kind of remote collaboration, I think is quite important. But I take your point, Bobby, it's kind of I'm sure, I'm sure for a while there, Zoom thought it was thought it was on to a good thing and is slightly kicking itself now I suspect.

Bobby  

Yeah, they also made the free tier of their service, it now trials adverts, so they're looking for ways to find more revenue, or to find revenue on that part of their service.

Adam  

I mean, I can't really blame them for that, because Zoom is one of those services, where the the free tier is so robust, and so kind of fully featured, that for 99% of people even you know, within organisations, you don't really need to pay for it, really. And I I would hazard a guess that Zoom never, never fully intended to... that Zoom never fully intended to have to monetise its users in the way that it's had to. A lot of Silicon Valley tech companies, as we've discussed on the podcast previously, their their goal is often to reach a certain stage, to reach a certain level of growth and then get acquired by a larger company, at which point, you know, monetisation and all of that kind of thing, stops being their problem. And it would not surprise me if that was originally Zoom's goal. And the whole, like freemium, inverted commas, monetisation model works very well for that, because you can put out an excellent free service, very fully featured, get tonnes of users and tonnes of engagement. And they might not be monetised, but they kind of don't have to be because by the time monetisation starts being a worry, it's you know, it's the problem of whoever's bought you.

Bobby  

Yeah. I love Zoom, I do agree that they probably didn't expect to be so big and they are like the poster child of the pandemic, essentially. But they have, what they did has kind of changed the rest of the sort of business comms landscape, like, Teams is drastically different from what it was before the pandemic; Slack is as well. I mean, even Salesforce have made changes specifically to combat Zoom, or to keep up with Zoom.

Adam  

Yeah, and I think that's something that that happens quite a lot in these kinds of situations, you know, someone gets way out in front. And then immediately, all the competitors start to kind of take inspiration from them, let's say. So, Connor, with that, let's move on to your pick for key trend.

Connor  

Yeah, key trend. So 2021 for me was, again, like, in all years in recent memory, it was a terrible one for ransomware. But it was also a good one for the good guys. We did see a lot of a lot more successful law enforcement stings, for example, often led by Europol and it's it basically cranked up the heat on ransomware gangs and we saw quite a few of the big ones shutting shop. So some of the major wins for the good guys this year: we've got like, REvil, they shut down. Again, I think that's twice this year, you also saw Darkside shutting down too and these were two of the most prolific gangs of 2021, right. So we had REvil. I mean, they both had some really significant scalps. They collected some really significant scalps this year, so REvil, they had Kaseya, they had JBS foods, you know Darkside, they had Colonial Pipeline. You know, these are these are massive, massive hacks and brought a lot of heat, brought a lot of global attention, a lot of news attention. So I will, I will flag that it is common for these ransomware gangs to shut down and it's you know, we do see the big ones shutting down quite often, especially after major hacks and maybe strings of major hacks. For example, REvil had Kaseya and JBS within just a few months of each other. So it's highly likely that the shutdowns aren't going to be forever. You know, it's it's well documented that the ransomware business model is far too lucrative and far too successful for it to be abandoned by these criminals forever, it wouldn't be a surprise to see REvil, Darkside boot back up in 2022, either under their old brand names or as new, as is so often the case with ransomware gang rebirths is, you know, they come back with new names. You know, in other areas of success we've seen throughout from from the good guys, at least, we've seen policy changes; ransomware gangs publicly saying that they're going to sort of tighten their target selection, for example, we saw Blackmatter which, if some are to be believed, they're linked to Darkside, and they publicly came out saying they were going to moderate their target selection because, you know, the Colonial Pipeline, that was just, it was just far too big, like, you know, it's they ransomware gangs, they want to go after these businesses with big pockets, but they also don't want to bring a country to its knees, you know, that's when, like us, that's when the legislators and you know, the presidents and that kind of thing. That's that's when they get involved and start to get angry. And that's when it just gets a little bit too much.

Adam  

Colonial Pipeline was, in some ways really entertaining to watch. I mean, the effects were were not good. But you could tell immediately that, that Darkside just, you could tell they made a huge mistake. And they knew that. The the initial kind of announcement that they put out when they realised who they'd hit and what they'd hit was like, the under, the undercurrent of it was oh, God, we're sorry. We did not know. You know, we didn't realise we'd hit an oil pipeline. Please don't. Please don't send the boys round. Yeah. Yeah, really, really entertaining. And we've seen that in the past with ransomware organisations, particularly in kind of the early stages of Coronavirus. While you did have some, some cyber criminals specifically going after organisations involved in things like vaccine research, distribution, the WHO was kind of the victim of several attempted cyber attacks earlier in the year. But you also had some ransomware organisations and cyber criminal organisations pledging specifically to stay away from hospitals and healthcare organisations and all of that kind of stuff. And we have seen ransomware operators with a conscience before.

Connor  

Yeah, for sure. I just Yeah, I think that I think this year has marked a line for ransomware gangs, they've reached the limit of what they think, yeah, they've reached the limit of what they can realistically achieve without being put in handcuffs. And so, you know, it's still too lucrative for the for the business to die off altogether. But I think we may see a shorter shelf life for ransomware companies, and there's sort of an increasing awareness among them that law enforcement are starting to band together a little bit better. You know, for example, the Biden administration placed ransomware on, labelled it as terrorism status. So you know, it's got serious, got serious now, and it's going to be more of a pump and dump kind of attack method, I think, get it get in, get out, go underground and avoid avoid the feds, basically.

Adam  

So you mentioned that a lot of the kind of law enforcement operations to kind of catch these gangs, particularly on this side of the, on the side of the pond has been done in kind of partnership and collaboration with Europol. Do you think that Brexit has had any impact on the the ability of UK law enforcement to contribute to these efforts and to, to help keep ransomware out of the UK's kind of cyberspace territories?

Connor  

I don't know. I think I think with the UK being such a technology superpower and the NCSC having, you know, such a, it's been such a strong cybersecurity organisation. I think that when it comes to things like ransomware, I don't think the, I don't think the bloc can afford to exclude us and exclude our intelligence and exclude our cooperation. Because if they actually want to fight crime, and do it successfully, I think that I don't think that Brexit or politics is going to really come into the equation. I think there are certain things that supersede others. And I think that stopping the private sector from bleeding to these ransomware attacks does just that. I think it does supersede all the politics behind it.

Adam  

So speaking of politics, my pick for key trend is something that I think may have flown under a lot of people's radar this year amongst all of the all of the other stuff going on. But my my pick is the the ongoing chip shortage that we've been seeing throughout this year, and spilling over from from last year, in fact. It's not something that most people think about on a regular basis, I think. But it's something that has had really surprisingly wide impacts. Microchips are in everything now, from home appliances, to smart tech to IoT things to even things like cars, and you just can't get enough; the supply is nowhere near enough to meet demand at the moment. And it's a combination of factors, including the pandemic, which has, you know, shrunk labour supplies. And it's meant there's not enough workers to fill various roles throughout the supply chain. The supply chain itself has been having various issues, things like severe weather conditions along parts of the supply chain, as well as logistical issues caused by COVID and other factors. And just a myriad of different factors alongside that have contributed to a market where it is very, very difficult for vendors to produce enough chips and for the chips that are produced to reach enough kind of sub vendors and manufacturers. And that's not going away anytime soon. The reports from companies like Intel and TSMC have indicated that it's probably going to be 2023, or even later, before that gets kind of properly resolved. And in in brief, what that means is that it's going to be more expensive, which means device prices are going to stay high, it means that device supply is probably going to stay low. I'm sure you know any CIOs who are listening who tried to get hold of, you know laptops for remote workers in the early stages of the pandemic last year, will know. It was like gold dust, by May, trying to find a decent laptop, because the supply just isn't there.

Connor  

Yeah, it's an interesting when you say it's gone under the radar a little bit. For me, it's like it throughout 2021 It's always been like that underlying story, it's always been there. But then it's sort of like in certain times of the year is like the the story itself is just sort of burst and it's sort of monopolised the IT headlines in certain ways. So for example, say with like the next gen console launch, and as you said, like people trying to get hold of business laptops at the start of the year. And even now, I think in recent in recent weeks and months when people are reading leading up to Christmas in on the consumer side of things, it's just so hard to get hold of devices now.

Bobby  

The weird thing about this story is it seems like comment fodder. So there is a problem, but people are jumping on it just to give us comment about it. And they're making it worse than what it probably is. Or they're making it appear worse than it is so like there'll always be report about Apple are cutting production on iPhone because of chip shortages, but then Apple report growth in iPhone sales. So it's not a particular problem for Apple, say. And it will just get sort of misconstrued as it's like going to be a problem for everybody in every case for every device, but it's it's quite specific devices that we need. I believe the cars were the initial problem.

Adam  

Cars are certainly one of the one of the biggest problems, which is partly because the the chips are very specialised. It's not the kind of, it's not the kind of area where you can just plug in an alternative chip and it does basically the same thing. They they are relatively relatively specialised, particularly when they're controlling things like guidance systems and some of the self driving elements or driving assistance elements that that a lot of newer cars have are being built with; that that's been one of the big areas but it's affecting all kinds of sectors. As you mentioned, Apple is having shortages with its iPhone chips, It's happening for Intel and for AMD, they're having trouble getting hold of kind of chips and components and various kind of bits and pieces along their supply chain. And it's not something that's going to have a massively damaging impact, as you mentioned, Apple are doing fine. Most organisations are able to offset the increased costs and the reduced productivity that this kind of issue is bring with it by the fact that the increased demand is generating more sales and allowing them to in a lot of cases slightly nudge their profits up, or their prices rather. But it's something that is going to be a continued market pressure, I think for a lot of organisations, particularly if they're having to invest in kind of new hardware, as 2022 rolls along.

Bobby  

So there was a lot of political pressure that came Mark Zuckerberg's way this year, and for good reason.There's privacy concerns, there's health and safety concerns. There's a lot of concerns for Facebook. But 2021 will probably be remembered for the fact that it's no longer Facebook. It's now Meta. And that's to suit its new focus: the metaverse.

Adam  

Yeah, it's it's been coming for a while. I think people have been predicting it for a while. But it was still a surprise to a lot of us, I think. And it's kind of hard to take seriously, if I'm honest. It doesn't. I mean, maybe it's just a case of familiarity, but it really doesn't have the same ring to it.

Bobby  

Now, there was a note by Zuckerberg to say that it would take several years to build out. So you can question did they really need to announce it now? Is it just a dead cat on the table? Or have they actually started doing it. 

Connor  

Yeah, the timing's very suspect.

Adam  

Yeah. 

Connor  

Was it like a week after Francis Haugen whistleblew on the company? How convenient.

Bobby  

The reports of the name change were leaked as she was in there.

Adam  

Yeah, yeah, that that is, that can't be an accident. Surely that is not a coincidence.

Connor  

Blatant but very effective.

Adam  

Do you reckon Facebook just have like a folder full of policies like that, you know, in case of scandal break glass.

Bobby  

They must do. That oddly aligns them with the Tories. Your, your piece on it, Connor, was one of my favourites, where you pulled together all the mocking of the name change.

Connor  

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. That was a good weekend, just scanning my TweetDeck, with this filter for the, for tech figures, just like meme after meme after meme. It was great.

Adam  

So speaking of memes, one of the other things that it's is worth kind of pulling out from this year is NFTs, and crypto in general, but NFTs in particular have exploded this year. And it's catapulted kind of blockchain and crypto technology in general, into the mainstream in a way that honestly I didn't think was ever going to, was ever going to happen. And it's, it's been really kind of bizarre, almost seeing NFTs kind of reach this this global status, because they're kind of nonsense.

Bobby  

Yeah, my understanding of it is a little bit shaky. But it's you make something, you save a copy of that, and the original one is marked as the original, and then you can make copies of that, is that right?

Adam  

So it's, it's kind of...

Bobby  

Kind of like trading cards or Panini stickers as we would have it.

Adam  

Well. The the idea of it essentially, is that it's a way of proving ownership of digital assets, essentially. So it's, it's like, it's similar to smart contracts, which we've written about on the site a number of times, but essentially, it's so it's built on the Ethereum blockchain. And it's rather than each entry being a record of who owns a particular a particular coin or a particular kind of, you know, piece of Etherium as a currency, each entry on on the blockchain is a record of who owns a particular asset. Whether that is an image or a video or something like that, but essentially, all of all it is, is, is it's a URL. It's just a URL and a little certificate essentially saying, Yep, this, you know, such and such owns this image. But that's it, there is nothing stopping anyone from taking that image, saving it, copying it, distributing, distributing it how they want. Because it's just it's a digital image, there is no inherent kind of DRM or copy protection. And these NFT assets sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds. And it's baffling to me, mostly because most of the NFT's that have become kind of popular and well known, are terrible. They're like programmatically generated using algorithms, all based on like a single template. So they look functionally interchangeable. Just very slight variations on a theme, they take literally no effort to produce. If each NFT was a kind of like a unique, a unique piece of art, you could maybe understand the the appeal of going okay, now I'm going to you know, I'm going to pay insane amounts for this. And I'm going to, you know, I'm going to have it as an NFT. And then I can prove that I own it. Fine. Okay, I guess. But for the most part, it's not even good art.

Bobby  

No, this is the other thing that's confused me is the use cases. So like I say, there's artists that have done it. I think even this, the original source for the internet. Tim Berners Lee has done it as well. But then yeah, Kings of Leon release an album as an NFT. How does that work? One person has the original copy of the album?

Adam  

I think so; one of the one of the biggest problems with NFTs is that it's it's a big old gold rush at the moment. So a lot of organisations are slapping the NFT label on stuff that absolutely does not need to be an NFT, is perfectly, you know, perfectly functional with existing technology and serves serves no benefit being an NFT. It's, a lot of it is just marketing stunts and and get rich quick schemes. But what's interesting for me is NFTs might genuinely push blockchain technology which is, you know, legitimately useful and has a number of applications in the, you know, in the business world, particularly; NFTs could push that into into the mainstream and actually get that to the point where it is kind of viable for organisations to start looking at deployments of it.

Bobby  

NFTs have made blockchain sound a lot cooler than what it actually is.

Adam  

My biggest worry is that NFTs will kind of almost ruin blockchain. I feel like they might kind of taint the idea of blockchain as just the thing that those monkey pictures are on. Which would be a shame because, you know, as I say, Blockchain is genuinely useful. And if it gets kind of, if it gets tainted by association with cartoon monkeys, then it will be a loss to the world of tech, I think. 

Bobby  

Yeah. 

Adam  

Well, I'm afraid that's all we've got time for in this special Christmas episode of the IT Pro Podcast. But from all of us here at IT Pro, we'd like to wish all of our listeners a very happy holiday season. Tune in next week when we'll be discussing our predictions for 2022. But until then, have a very merry christmas.

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