Strategic Tech for 2008

ORLANDO — Industry analysts today urged IT shops to more closely follow trends in unified communications, virtualization and “green IT,” citing all three among the most critical technologies currently impacting the space.

That’s according to Gartner Group analysts David Cearley and Carl Claunch, who discussed their top technology picks before an overflow audience of IT professionals here at Gartner’s Symposium ITxpo 2007.

Claunch told the audience that unified communications signifies the most dramatic shift in the communications space since PBXs were introduced — and in fact, represents the next evolution of the technology.

Those developments are coming about in part because the migration of communications from analog to digital opens up opportunities for new applications and the mixing of information, Claunch said. Despite challenges in managing the technology, he added that prospects also exist for creating value-added applications built on the merging technologies.

“As we move to use the TCP/IP communications suite as a method of communicating, the storage networks are now part of this common approach,” Claunch said. “You’ll be putting things like security feeds on your network and mining them.” (Mining, that is, for non-security research, such as analyzing traffic patterns in a retail environment.)

Virtualization is another technology that’s already on most IT department’s radars. Yet here, too, the analysts said they see a broadening of the technology’s appeal ahead as it matures, describing some of the future scenarios as “Virtualization 2.0”.

“It’s opening up a fascinating new delivery method for software vendors,” because virtualization allows more security and isolation of new software on the network, Claunch said.

He also sees virtualization helping to ease the age-old conflicts between IT and users who want to be able to run personal applications on their company PC or notebook. Claunch said virtualization lets IT distribute the pristine, locked-down image on client systems it wants and provide a separate, secure area for the individual.

Claunch also discussed another apparent split: this time, between Europe and the U.S. over managing IT’s environmental impact. Europe, he said, pays more overall attention to the issue.

By contrast, while plenty of U.S. corporations have “green” initiatives, they’ve chiefly centered on ways to save energy only in the datacenter.

“There’s a focus on electrical systems and grids,” Claunch said. “But with two percent of all the carbon being released coming from IT technology, anything we can do to cut back will help.”

Claunch also said “green IT” should become part of every company’s social responsibility initiatives.

Even though budgets are being squeezed, IT departments should be planning a strategy to get greener “before someone comes knocking on your door to reduce” carbon emissions,” Cearly added.

Along with unified communications, virtualization and environmental issues, the analysts also discussed Software as a Service (SaaS) and Web platforms as two additional technologies likely to radically alter the business landscape.

While SaaS represents only a small part of today’s IT landscape, Cearley said it needs to be part of an IT department’s strategic planning. That’s because it promises to shake up the traditional software distribution model, he said, which has left many companies overpaying for applications they rarely use, if ever.

But he said any move to SaaS should be made only after careful evaluation, since companies may find there are issues like customization and security that need to be resolved first.

One alternative might be managed hosting services, which he said “aren’t really SaaS,” but which could offer the best solution for garnering similar benefits while addressing concerns over version control, customization and security.

Web platforms, meanwhile, are likely to show real staying power, both analysts said, with heavy investment in the area coming from both entrepreneurs and the biggest tech companies like IBM, Google and Microsoft.

As data storage and more applications move to service models, there will be an emergence of more online service components and assemblers to build out the infrastructure, Cearley said.

Claunch predicts we’ll be seeing a lot more of the “Real World Web” bringing once-static images to more lifelike interactivity. He cited examples of car sites that let you click on an image to see features, pricing and set options, as well as travel sites that give you a virtual tour of potential vacation spots. “There are lots of great opportunities to layer information that you need to be thinking about,” he said.

Other tech areas noted in the session were mash-ups, metadata management, business process management and “computing fabrics,” blade servers that enable more sharing of computer resources in the datacenter.

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