Roundup: Top Tech Trends For 2008

Technology Staff Editor
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From the fate of Vista to social networking in smaller businesses to green tech, bMighty collects the top technology predictions for the new year. Making predictions has always been a risky business, and with the Internet's ability to record those prognostications in perpetuity, it's now downright dangerous. But having a good sense of the top tech trends can help IT managers in smaller companies figure out where to put their energies and, more significantly, their technology investments. Of course, prognosticators do get it wrong sometimes -- the few businesses that invested in the Apple Lisa can tell you that -- but by sifting through the myriad of 2008 prediction lists that are out there, we have managed to cobble together a list of tech trends that appear to be on their way to making a mark in the industry. Is This The Year to Dump Microsoft? The introduction of Vista this past year was supposed to create more upheaval than it actually did. Is it still inevitable that smaller businesses will mostly go Vista this year? PC World thinks '08 is the year Linux gets some real attention in the business world. It writes: "As Vista continues to limp toward wider adoption, Linux will make major inroads into the enterprise, as well as in government IT." Vista will also make some people over at Apple happy this year. According to InformationWeek's tech predictions for 2008, Microsoft's new operating system "has largely been a nonevent in many corporations. Many have held off on any wholesale migration to the new operating system, instead sticking with XP or even moving to the Mac OS. While Vista made good on its promises to rewrite the kernel and deliver a new security model, it has suffered from a lack of compatible applications and its own collection of security issues." InformationWeek quotes Dan O'Donnell, collaboration administrator at Rand Corp., who says, "The relative lack of Windows security isn't something that Apple caused, but clearly they are benefiting from it." Dan Frakes of Macworld also predicts that this is the year Mac enters the enterprise in a big way. He writes: "The debut of Leopard, along with a general dissatisfaction with Windows Vista, will open doors for the Mac in the enterprise market. In fact, we'll see a few major U.S. companies switch to the Mac platform -- some gradually, but at least a couple in a major public migration. We'll also see a resurgence of the Mac platform in higher education." As Microsoft fends off open source from one side and Apple from the other, others see online office suites finally becoming a real contender to Office. Wired goes so far as to predict the "Fall of Office." It continues: "Five years ago it would have been impossible to imagine that Microsoft could ever play the underdog, but roles are changing rapidly, thanks to the improvement and availability of free, web-based office software. Now an increasing number of people are flocking to free office suites, whether those are traditional desktop-software suites like Sun Microsystems' or completely online, web-based apps like Google Docs. And although Google Docs is still somewhat primitive, it's the first major reimagining of the productivity-software suite since Microsoft first bundled Word and Excel -- and that's why we think it's going to make major waves in 2008." Get Ready to Go Virtual Many smaller companies started taking baby steps toward a more virtual operation this past year, but PC World is predicting that in 2008, virtualization will hit the desktop in a big way: "Many prognosticators are gazing into their crystal balls and seeing virtualization on desktops." It cites Barry Eggers, Lightspeed's general partner, enterprise infrastructure, who envisions more IT shops using desktop virtualization in conjunction with virtualized servers. PC World notes that Eggers acknowledges that "early adopters are finding that users weren't so keen on that model because the 'user experience [is] much less satisfying than a full desktop,' [says Eggers] but that will start to change in the new year." InformationWeek also predicts that virtualization will "continue to make headlines in 2008," noting that the technology will expand into "just about every nook and cranny of the data center." Blogger Tony Bradley, who writes on computer security, also sees virtualization -- which he terms a "growing trend" -- expanding its reach in IT operations, adding that "in 2008 Microsoft will release their Hyper-V hypervisor application to add some fuel to the fire." IDC goes even further, saying that virtual servers will emerge as "the killer app" for Internet SCSI. Smaller Businesses Wake Up to Social Networking Up until now, most smaller businesses saw social networking as a way for their workers to waste time. Most predictions are this is the year that that will all change. PC World says "Social networking will invade corporations by year's end." It sees more services -- like, which allows salespeople to share leads and information -- becoming more standard. And significantly for IT managers, PC World predicts that social networking apps will seep into all manner of companies, "whether the IT department likes it or not." Similarly, PC Magazine predicts that social networking will invade corporate life: "Many people already know about Second Life, LinkedIn, and even Facebook, but next year, corporate users will discover that these social networks can be key collaboration tools. Look for LinkedIn and Facebook to provide more applications to attract still more corporate users." CNET also sees companies relying more on Web 2.0 technologies most specifically as a way to interact with consumers. Writes CNET: "Consumers increasingly want to engage online with one another and with organizations of all kinds. Companies can tap this new mood of customer engagement for their economic benefit." Wired agrees: "If 2007 was all about zombie bites on social networks, then 2008 is when apps will get down to business. With MySpace and Facebook covering the casual social network space, business-centric sites like LinkedIn -- as well as productivity-themed apps on the more casual sites -- will be primed to explode. Likewise, expect to see more developers creating functional tools for businesses like Rolodexes and desktop calendars, and fewer food fights. Platforms like Google's OpenSocial should also accelerate this movement, bringing an air of professionalism to a landscape otherwise dominated by pirates and ninjas." But, significantly for IT managers, PC Magazine notes another prediction -- that social networks will become increasingly vulnerable to botnets. It writes: "As social networks gain in popularity, I expect them to become the next major target for security threats. Botnets will find their way into these networks and inflict all kinds of new security problems, including identity theft. McAfee, Symantec, Microsoft, and even Apple are aware of these threats and are working hard to prevent them, but social networks will suffer invasion." The Consumerization of IT And to really push IT managers over the edge, PC World adds the social networking phenomenon is one part of yet another growing problem for IT shops: The growing blurring of the lines between consumer and corporate IT. "iPhone-buying employees will bring that device into the enterprise in ever-growing numbers, forcing IT departments to deal with it. Security and protection from hackers, spam, phishers, and the lot of cyber miscreants will continue to pose a huge headache for network administrators as home IT merges with corporate IT." InfoWorld also cautions that as users take advantage of more and more social networking -- and other -- apps, a company's IT infrastructure will become more and more vulnerable to attacks. "Of course, no matter how secure an operating system is, most exploits will continue to rely on socially engineering users to install things they otherwise shouldn't. As I covered in several previous columns, client-side attackers make up more than 90 percent of all malicious compromises." The killer prediction for IT managers? Adds InfoWorld: "I don't see that changing: User behavior is tough to alter." Less Spending on IT = Outsourcing the IT Shop? Apparently, IT spending in 2008 is not going to be as robust as researchers initially thought. Baseline reports that both AMR Research and Forrester Research trimmed back their original estimates on IT spending growth in 2008 from a high of nearly 8% down to about 5%. One of the ways IT shops are going to trim their budgets is by outsourcing. Baseline quotes Bob Kraus, VP of quantitative research at AMR Research: "Another way IT organizations are saving money is by getting their software development done in India and Eastern Europe." InformationWeek sees outsourcing happening more and more with managed service providers (MSPs). InformationWeek writes: "In 2008, there will be increasing numbers of managed service providers (MSPs) who will gladly do it for you, co-locating servers at third-party sites, and who will do it cheaper and more reliably, too." But there's more. Rick Ruiz, general manager of small and midsize business services within IBM's Global Technology Services division, is quoted: "There has been a greater acceptance of outsourcing, and we have increased our offerings, especially in the midmarket. We have seen interests in companies avoiding fixed costs when their business expands. They don't want to staff-up yet, but still add capabilities. They want to focus on their core business." CNET attributes the pending growth in outsourcing this coming year to the increasing availability of collaboration tools and the increasing interactive nature of work online. Writes CNET: "As more and more sophisticated work takes place interactively online and new collaboration and communications tools emerge, companies can outsource increasingly specialized aspects of their work and still maintain organizational coherence. Much as technology permits them to decentralize innovation through networks or customers, it also allows them to parcel out more work to specialists, free agents, and talent networks." More Green Tech in 2008 There have been lots and lots of talk this past year about how IT shops can go green and it appears that the green trend is going to continue in 2008, with an eye on improving smaller businesses' bottom line. Sure, ZDNet predicts that technologies with "green benefits" -- like virtualization -- will be adopted more quickly, at both the server and the desktop level, thanks to being touted as environmentally caring technologies. But as PC World notes, in the upcoming year "Green IT will become a sustainable model in the enterprise. The bottom line will be the primary force in the greening of data centers and offices." IT wants to do good -- but cost savings will continue to motivate greener operations. InfoWorld quotes Drew Clark, co-founder and director of strategy at IBM Venture Capital Group: "The greening of the datacenter will continue to be a top priority for corporations, as the cost of simply powering the center begins to exceed the cost of the servers and devices in the datacenter. Key drivers to help reduce the overall carbon footprint and run more efficient centers will include intelligent sensors and advanced analytics to monitor and improve equipment utilization, reducing downtime and providing comprehensive operational visibility." InfoWorld blogger Ted Samson agrees. He writes: "Companies will continue to push the envelope in developing greener datacenters. They won't stop at simply employing energy-efficient hardware and cooling systems and embracing general datacenter-design best practices. They'll follow in the footsteps of companies such as Digital Realty in developing buildings that adhere to LEED." PC Magazine sees both forces as motivators, but the end result is the same: "Look for corporate users to accelerate their demand for more energy-efficient servers and desktops. Yes, there is a new level of corporate stewardship in the air, and executives see that 'greener' devices can save them money. In addition, many IT managers and corporate users believe that they should be doing their part to help the environment and contribute to the decline in global warming." Obviously, a year from now the tech landscape could look very different and plenty of IT managers will sit there scratching their heads in wonder and this article will be read with nostalgic glee. As Kara Swisher of All Things D, noted in her blog explaining why she will not try to predict what will happen in the world of tech in 2008: "As a holiday gift to all readers, BoomTown will refrain from making any big pronouncements about what's coming in 2008 in the tech sector, because, um, well, I have no idea what's coming in 2008 in the tech sector. No one could have Miss Cleo-ed all the twists and turns of 2007, for certain. Could we have predicted a tiny start-up with negligible revenues but explosive growth could be valued at $15 billion? We swear on our Facebook profile we could not!" We'll see you next year and you'll let us know how we did. As long as we don't end up here, we can hold our heads up high.

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