Predicting the leading trends in ICT is a tricky business at the best of times. Given the economic uncertainties of today, it is even more difficult. Certainly, a great deal depends upon perspective. The trends in enterprise infrastructure are hardly the same as those in consumer telephony, while what is important to a seller of services may be of lesser importance to a seller of boxes.
That said, we are entering revolutionary times in which a few dominant themes are moving swiftly across the industry, affecting everything in their path. The two chief issues are the economy and cloud computing.
The economy has brought about industry consolidation and re-evaluation of expenditure which have, in turn, affected corporate spending plans, upgrade cycles, areas of interest for new technologies and willingness to undertake large, new projects.
Cloud computing is more difficult to define, but can be viewed in the broadest sense as an evolution in datacentre infrastructure and in how services are delivered both internally and externally. Cloud technologies include virtualisation, Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and other service provisions. Another key trend, more evident in the consumer space, is toward mobile data services, including the mobile internet, apps and location-based services.
International analyst firm Gartner’s top 10 strategic technologies for 2010 offer a global perspective that is, perhaps, skewed toward larger organisations. The list is:
• Cloud computing
• Advanced analytics
• Client computing
• Green IT
• Reshaping the datacentre
• Social networking
• Security – activity monitoring
• Flash memory
• Virtualisation for availability
• Mobile applications.
Gartner executives also described the past year as possibly the worst ever for IT. The local environment has not been quite as difficult, partly owing to a delayed onset of recession, milder effects and smaller companies. However, there is no question that finance has become a driving factor, and the international trends are having a significant impact upon the local environment.
Ovum is an analyst firm with a strong Asia/Pacific presence, based in Sydney. According to principal IT services analyst Jens Butler, the top 10 trends for 2010 are:
• Uptake of cloud offerings
• Re-invigoration of green solutions/offerings
• Uptake of Windows 7
• Increasing pressure on vendor ecosystems (margin management)
• Vendor consolidation
• Greater business case management and value delivery.
In the local IT sector, Butler sees two key issues affecting the market in the coming year. “The pace of economic recovery is picking up and will flow through into the business confidence, driving a greater appetite for investment,” he says. “Meanwhile, expect Asia/Pacific and ANZ to receive an increased focus, especially from global providers. This market will come out of recession earlier than the rest of the world and vendors will attempt to jump on board.”
According to Peter Finch, CIO of Telecom integration division Gen-i, “Cloud computing will continue to be big over the coming year as more companies look at the option of buying access to storage and processing through a cloud provider. We will see a greater adoption of IaaS and PaaS (Platform as a Service) architectures and the range of application functions provided by cloud will expand.
“Virtualisation is the logical step towards cloud as companies ‘on-load’ their work loads from physical infrastructure to a virtual environment. So, the move to virtualisation will also remain a priority. We will also continue to see mobile computing grow as devices become more intelligent and the need to work from anywhere and at any time increases. We will see more organisations looking to use mobile as a platform for applications such as sales and operations.”
Gen-i’s top-10 list for significant trends is:
• Cloud computing
• Mobile computing
• Business intelligence
• Information security
• High-quality videoconferencing (telepresence)
• Social networking
• Integration of external customer/partner communities with internal business applications, for example presence
• Outsourced ICT
• Green IT.
“Companies should look to move processing workloads to virtualisation to enable them to leverage cloud services,” says Finch. “Finding a cloud service that can be explored is a good way to gain understanding. Security and data sovereignty should be considered carefully before any critical deployment. Make sure you know where your data is, how secure it is, what access you have to your data and how often it is backed up. If services are hosted offshore, it is important to note that they are subject to the laws of that country. Some areas provide access to all data for government agencies. [The US, under the Patriot Act, for example.] This might not be acceptable to your organisation.”
For mobile computing, it’s important to examine how mobile work is done in the organisation and assess the capability wanted from mobile computing. Leverage existing applications by extending them out to the mobile and explore which mobile devices best suit the needs.
As for the financial situation, Finch is less than sanguine, “Even with a recovery in the economy, we won’t see spending patterns like we saw in 2006,” he says. “There will be new disciplines around spending, with a greater focus on ROI.”
Hewlett-Packard is in a position to view issues across a wide range of sectors, and has a strong focus upon enterprise infrastructure. “At HP, we think it is necessary for resellers to consider both technology and broader trends driven by the current market environment,” says New Zealand channel manager for enterprise storage, servers and networking, Michael Murphy. “A new piece of global research commissioned by HP identified a number of key market trends that are having a very real impact on investment decisions.”
The trends identified include:
• A shift toward innovation
• Demand for rapid change.
• A need to thrive in unpredictability.
Additional trends that HP has seen throughout 2009 and that will remain critical in 2010 are:
• Converging infrastructure
• Cloud computing.
“We believe that converging infrastructure is the next evolution in IT strategy,” says Murphy. “A converged infrastructure addresses the current problem of IT sprawl, which causes the majority of technology spend on maintenance activities versus innovation, and inhibits the response to changes in demand. Instead of individual stacks of storage, servers and networking, the new model will reunite them.”
Key opportunities of a converged infrastructure for resellers are:
• Simplified procurement of server, storage and network elements from single vendor sourcing
• Increased services revenue from converged infrastructure deployment
• Better delivery of business-aligned pricing models to customers via flexible resource provisioning (that is to say cloud computing economics from hosted or in-house solutions)
• Increased customer loyalty via delivery of lower cost, lower risk, higher value solutions.
“I think that handling these trends comes down to resellers accepting that unpredictability is the new normality,” says Murphy. “In the past, economic cycles were more predictable and it was easier to match technology plans to those cycles. Organisations either planned for growth or prepared for a downturn. Today, those rules no longer apply. Therefore, chief information officers need to build plans that can handle multiple future scenarios and resellers and vendors need to be able to provide solutions that can address all of the scenarios.”
Juniper Networks is more focused upon the data communications sector, but it is also seeing some of the same topics. “There are a couple of broad trends that will fuel some additional trends and changes in technology buying behaviour in 2010,” says channel manager Rob Finn.
“The first is a move towards cloud/network based services. This in turn means that we’ll see a focus on network virtualisation and the consolidation of networking devices within datacentre environments to provide more elasticity for the applications and storage that connects to it. Virtualisation and consolidation will also be fuelled by the ongoing desire for IT to reduce its carbon footprint through reducing the number of devices in the network, therefore reducing space, cooling and power requirements.”
Security is also likely to remain an important focus. Collaboration and connectivity will also be key trends in 2010 and intelligent, converged networks are an important part of this.
“Managed services will also be key,” says Finn. “From a security perspective, we are seeing increasingly sophisticated attacks and threats as companies do more online and see their network more as a competitor differentiator rather than costly asset. Network management and event correlation become far more difficult and complex as more devices are attached. Simplifying operations and reducing costs becomes ever more important, and is likely to be a focus for many organisations in the coming year.”
Revera cofounder and director Roger Cockayne cautions that some trends may be misinterpreted. “Cloud computing is riding the wave crest of popularity. But the hype has contaminated a clear definition. In some respects cloud computing has been over simplified. Cloud computing is buying access to hardware or an application, or both, on a service level - that’s it. What should be at the end is utility - pay only for what you use and pay as you go. The opportunity it brings is more applications available through this mechanism. Traditionally, software providers have struggled to do it, but now it’s caught on with such vigour that more new apps will be built for this new market - much in the same way apps are being developed for the iPhone.”
With government spending acting as a recovery agent in businesses around the world, Revera is also concerned about local tendering practices, and views them as problematic for IT sector recovery. “By packaging all their needs together, government ends up excluding most local suppliers,” cautions Cockayne. “When they ask for specialist datacentre services and specialist desktop services and specialist application services, in New Zealand there are very few companies that do all those things. The overseas suppliers say they can do it because of their size and are often the only ones eligible to bid for certain clients. Central government should understand this and be prepared to accept local consortia.”
He suggests it would be more productive from a local recovery perspective to start with the desired outcome and ask the question - can it be provided locally? Questions like this may become more significant as governments worldwide attempt to aid local recovery by investing in their own industry.