Determining the importance of trends in IT technology is a bit like the Indian fable of the blind men and the elephant. Each of the men senses a part of the animal and draws a conclusion as to what it must be; all of their conclusions are different, and all are wrong, because they can only feel what is closest to them.
When it comes to technology trends, everyone has a different perspective, influenced by the issues that are important to them and to their company. Forecasting has been particularly tricky in recent years because there have been major upheavals in how IT is deployed, managed and perceived.
The key issues from 2010 will persist into 2011, with the prime movers continuing to be cloud computing, mobility and social networks. As to the rest, that depends on regional focus, technology focus, market sector and overall perspective. Resellers will vary widely as to which trends will be found significant. And there are important regional differences between global trends and what is important to New Zealand.
Every year in October, the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in the US provides a list of the top strategic technologies for the upcoming year. It provides a good guide to international concerns, which is a reasonable place to start. This year’s list is:
• Cloud Computing
• Mobile applications and media tablets
• Social communications and collaboration
• Next-generation analytics
• Social analytics
• Context-aware computing
• Storage class memory
• Ubiquitous computing
• Fabric-based infrastructure and computers. (A “fabric-based computer” is a modular system aggregated from separate components connected via a switched “fabric” connection)
There are few surprises in this list, as most of these items have been evident for some time. The key themes are distributed computing, social computing and analytics.
For a local perspective, Gen-i CIO Peter Finch provides a list from Telecom’s data division:
• Cloud computing
• Outsourced ICT
• Consumerisation of technology in the workplace – “Bring Your Own Technology”
• Converged ICT solutions
• Mobility solutions
• Social networking
• Business intelligence
• Information security
• Business continuity.
“Cloud computing will continue to be big over the coming year, as more companies look to move IT functions such as server, storage, desktop, email and security to the cloud,” says Finch. “We will also see a rise in the demand for platform-as-a-service solutions. Clients looking to drive major change in business process or spending are increasingly outsourcing their IT and telecommunications’ requirements.
“This offers opportunities to enhance their computing and communications infrastructure and enable them to take advantage of emerging technologies including cloud computing, unified communications and dynamic real-time monitoring.”
Over the next fiscal year, Gen-i is investing in the process, structural and cultural changes needed to simplify the business, reduce costs and deliver sustainable growth.
“Our clients are investing in ICT technology to transform their costs, their ability to retain customers and to achieve growth in focused markets,” says Finch. “Those investments are being made against clear business cases, with strong financials and business user engagement. There has also been a rise in demand for low-cost, balanced against value ICT and shared, standard and flexible services are valued.”
Gen-i believes privacy concerns, as well as issues of service and support, will aid in development of local cloud computing infrastructure, such as use of its own cloud services. For example, the New Zealand Law Commission is looking at recommendations for laws to cover the protection of personal information that is originated in New Zealand and used overseas, as part of an ongoing study of privacy. Locally-provided cloud services will also address concerns about performance, cost, security and control.
As to products, Gen-i is expecting significant developments in the smartphone area. “With many clients leveraging Microsoft applications to run their business, the launch of Windows Phone 7 has been keenly anticipated,” says Finch. “It offers an exciting platform for businesses to develop applications that work across mobile, desktop and cloud-based services. We are excited by the potential to help our clients leverage this capability to develop converged solutions, which combine fixed and mobile technologies to help address the key challenges business face.”
Microsoft provides a perspective that is more closely oriented toward the consumer and small business sector in New Zealand. David Rayner, director of Microsoft’s OEM partner group provides this list of the top 10 trends that resellers need to consider:
• Cloud computing
• Consumerisation of IT
• Consolidation of workloads
• IT Investment
• Touch-enabled devices
• Trust and privacy
• Price points
• Tech traders (who use Trade Me for strategic tech purchasing, as explained below)
• Trade Me
• PC home hobbyists.
“Over the past 25 years we have developed from a device-centric software and hardware world to a ‘continuous service and connect anywhere’ thought process, as employees look to use a computing devices of their choice,” says Rayner. “As a result, resellers will be increasingly looking to deliver excellence in IT as a service. This will be enabled by investing in the infrastructure and architecture needed to deliver secure, manageable, reliable and always-available, device-agnostic solutions.”
This consumerisation of IT will define how customers perceive value from IT resellers, says Rayner.
“The ability to deliver flexible, available, reliable device-agnostic solutions will become a core part of delivering both competitive opportunity, but also around recruiting and retaining the best employees.”
The acquisition of technology is addressed in the tech traders and TradeMe categories. Tech traders are viewed as an emerging category of consumers who are prepared to lose up to half the original purchase price of a product within a year, to be able to purchase the next latest release of the latest ‘cool’ product, on selling the older product on TradeMe. Devices sold on TradeMe by tech traders will open up the market for not-quite-the-latest products to people who could not previously afford them. This is likely to be particularly noticeable in the smartphone and slate categories, as social groups move to adopt technologies that enable their experience.
“Cloud computing will become pervasive for developers and IT,” says Rayner. “This is a shift that will transform the infrastructure, systems and business processes worldwide. Resellers will also need to grasp what this means for their business and where they can derive profit as the business need changes. Office 365 is the new cloud offering from Microsoft and is set to have a substantial impact on the market. Launched earlier this month, Office 365 is Microsoft’s next-generation cloud productivity solution that brings together Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online in an always-up-to-date cloud service. Office 365 will make it easier for organisations of all sizes to access and use Microsoft’s business productivity solutions via the cloud.”
For resellers, Rayner cautions that it is now, more than ever, essential to keep engaged with customers as they face ongoing changes in the new environment. “Your customers’ IT demands and business challenges are changing more rapidly than ever,” he says. “Resellers need to make sure they not only regularly engage with their customers but that they also engage across the business. Just talking to the IT manager every month isn’t going to provide the insight resellers need to keep up with what their customers are thinking and doing.”
It will also be important to keep watching cost issues as the economy rebounds, he says. “Over the coming year businesses will continue to look to cost savings, but will increasingly look to invest where they can see clear ROI and/or a competitive opportunity.”
Symantec’s focus is on securing and managing information, whether customers elect to use on-premises or in-the-cloud storage and security solutions. The company views the future from the perspective of risk and ROI.
“There are a lot of trends that we think will make a strong appearance in 2011,” says Symantec SMB director Steve Martin. “These include the move to cloud computing; mobile computing; BYO computing; virtualisation; consolidation; and increased Windows 7 adoption. Resellers also need to be aware of developments in social media; the evolution of business models – from deals-based to service-based; more verticalised solutions (healthcare, for example); outsourcing of multiple systems and processes and combining of key technologies, such as security and storage.”
In all, there are improvements in the economy that should be good for business. “We think the New Zealand IT sector is looking more optimistic than previous years,” says Martin. “We believe there is plenty of opportunity in the SMB market and customers are focused on getting the most value out of their software investment. There is going to be a much greater focus on ROI. Customers want to see a measurable ROI in the short term. They’re not prepared to wait years to recoup their technology investment. Businesses are also looking to multitask and are deploying combined technologies, for example deploying Windows 7 and updated security at the same time.”
Dr Kevin McIsaac is an analyst for Australian research firm IBRS on infrastructure, operations and vendor management. He offers the following list of key trends in infrastructure in the ANZ region:
• Continued growth of server virtualisation
• Storage capacity growth
• Move from buying layered components such as network storage servers, to integrated systems
• Cloud computing
• Client (desktop) hypervisors
• Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE )
• Virtual Desktops
• Datacentre capacity, power and cooling
• Growth of business demand.
“We are starting to see companies returning to growth,” says McIsaac. “This means more capital expenditure, especially on some items that are getting beyond there optimum life and an increase in hiring, though mostly consultants at the moment, for projects.”
Among technologies that didn’t make it, McIsaac believes virtual desktop infrastructure has proven particularly unspectacular. ”Even the VMware chief operating officer Tod Neilson commented in the last few quarters that it has ‘not reached a tipping point’ and he does not know what it will take to cause the market to accelerate,” he says.
“I think the shift from buying horizontal layered components - such as storage from EMC, Servers from HP and networks from Cisco - to vertically integrated systems, such as Oracle Exadata/Exalogic or HP BladeMatrix, is a major shift.”