The future of Web 2.0, the iPhone and RIM – IT World Canada’s predictions for 2008

The senior editorial staff at IT World Canada was locked in a room with a crystal ball, and asked to prognosticate on the trends, issues and stories that will influence the IT scene in 2008. Here’s what we see for the next 12 months.

Big buys

Someone will make a play for Citrix, which could be an asset to so many players: Sun, with an open source stable, could use an open source hypervisor, though the strong Microsoft tie-in might discourage; HP, which could use a hypervisor and reason to boost ProCurve and services sales; Dell, which could put it to myriad uses on the enterprise and small office fronts; or IBM, because it can. But a recently announced tighter partnership with Redmond makes Microsoft look likeliest.

Dell will buy BladeLogic. As it tries to compete with HP and IBM in the data centre, Dell needs some systems management expertise, and after HP’s purchase of Opsware last year, BladeLogic seems like most natural target.

Research in Motion is a juicy plum – er, make that blackberry – that is ripe for the picking. Unable to partake of that forbidden fruit, the Apple, Microsoft would love to add these tasty berries to its basket. Alas, it will not be so. RIM will be plucked by Motorola. Hello Moto!

Web 2.0 finds its business case in the enterprise …

While employees in most enterprises are already involved in social networks such Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and so on, until now there have been hardly any enterprise applications that help them actively harness and use data on these sites to achieve business goals.

This year – either driven by user demand, or the need to gain a leg up on the competition – enterprise software vendors will start to weave Web 2.0 capabilities into new versions of their products, mapping these to the patterns of many enterprise functions.

New applications will be developed that enable employees – not just to locate and benefit from the documented knowledge within the organization – but to also identify “undocumented knowledge,” expertise and know-how residing on social networking sites.

For instance, entirely new types of sales forecasting applications will be created that constantly search for and retrieve information from the public Internet to help sales persons better identify and capitalize on new opportunities.

Not only will content on social networking sites be accessed and channeled to accomplish business goals, but this phenomenon will also occur via mobile devices. We will witness the growth of content providers for mobile social networks, such as Jumbuck.

Salesforce.com-type services – that let salespeople share leads and information – will also be offered on mobile devices. By the year end, these devices will become standard for such transactions.

Advances in broadband wireless technologies – such as WiMAX – will support the growth of enterprise mobile virtual communities.

… and in government

We can expect to see some movement on governments’ adoption of new interactive-style technologies such as those that power the Facebooks and MySpaces of the world. Despite discouraging signs like the Ontario government’s recent banning of Facebook and YouTube in the workplace, and despite minimal offering of such communication methods to citizens thus far, governments simply won’t have much choice in 2008 around whether they start adopting it or not.

With so many constituents – especially younger ones whose votes so many politicians are courting – getting on the Web 2.0 bandwagon in the last two years, the public sector will risk losing a key opportunity to interact with them if they don’t start to go with the flow.

So expect to see, even if they represent baby steps, more citizen-facing government Web pages that serve up the opportunity to open discussions and forums around key areas of interest. Health care, education and other perpetually hot-button issues should see the largest growth in this area.

IT security continues its snail’s-pace evolution

The evolution of IT security and its further comprehensive adoption by Canadian businesses and organization will undoubtedly advance at just about the same pace that it has for years – very slowly. There just aren’t a great many reasons to think otherwise. Most companies still struggle to understand their risk exposure and what they need to do in order to minimize that potential of breeches and malicious activity. It’s doubtful that an epiphany will happen in 2008.

IT security will also most likely continue along the same adoption path that it always has, driven mostly by a need for various vertical industry compliance measures and other forms of legislative directives. Most companies and organizations will react when they absolutely must, out of necessity and crisis after the fact rather than as a result of great foresight to prevent a disaster before it happens.

Most will remain confounded by how little or much IT security to impose, largely because they struggle with the concept of risk management and how to ascribe specific value to “what if something happened.”

And they’ll mostly look for products and services with built-in IT security features and functions, and avoid whenever possible dealing with issues of IT security in a more direct fashion. Oh, and nobody wants to pay much extra for security, even though they’ll swear it’s really, really important.

More likely the greatest security pains in 2008 will come from the Web as enterprise business seeks to leverage the power of concepts such as virtualization and social networking, among other things. These are the things that increase risk and perhaps drive companies to be more proactive in mitigating these circumstances.

An increasing emergence of threats from wireless mobile devices as these become the more common tools of business will further compound security challenges from Web and Internet sources.

Virtualization’s impact will stretch beyond the data centre

The year 2007 was the year virtualization in the data centre became a rising star.

Think it’s hype?

Think again. Its impact is going to be felt by more than carved-up servers.

It’ll give a boost to the open source movement by virtue of licensing costs – how much is it going to cost to spin that many instances of an OS or application? Look for VM-optimized open source packages to appear, if only for the branding effect. Virtualization will drive development of new applications to manage, analyze, migrate and prepackage VM images. And it’s going to create an ecosystem of virtualization services and consulting companies.

It might even convince IT to take a harder, longer look at Microsoft’s Longhorn server OS. That won’t necessarily translate to better uptake; the Microsoft implementation of virtualization isn’t as dynamic as VMware’s or Xen’s, and the forward-looking will recognize that that’s critical.

Distant horizon for Vista

Speaking of Microsoft, Redmond hopes 2008 will be a banner year for its franchise desktop operating system.

The software giant will release the first service pack for the Vista desktop OS shortly, which is usually the event IT managers see as the confirmation of a new operating system’s stability and the green light for sales. However, that probably won’t happen this year.

When Vista made its debut in November 2006, organizations quickly learned it needs more horsepower and RAM to run comfortably.

For those unwilling to spend on hardware upgrades, Windows XP was perfectly fine and they’ve been holding out for over a year, either installing XP on new PCs or insisting OEMs install it on machines they buy.

That won’t change with the release of SP1. Many IT managers aren’t impressed with Vista’s supposed security improvements over XP, and as the North American economy slows organizations may be denied money for PC upgrades.

One sign: when our sister U.S. publication InfoWorld began a petition this month urging Microsoft not to stop OEM and shrinkwrapped sales of XP, it pulled in more than 12,000 signatures within 36 hours. By the middle of the month, the total was 41,000.

The iPhone will fall flat

After all the hype, concern and hopes placed upon Apple’s latest consumer device, Canadian IT managers will find they could have ignored it altogether.

Apple has yet to confirm any major deals with a local carrier (despite the Rogers rumours). In taking so long the company is offering competitors like Nokia and Motorola plenty of time to come up with an even more compelling device, and one which may work with Windows Mobile 6. This doesn’t even take into account the scores of cheap iPhone imitators which are already hitting the shelves.

Apple is notoriously poor at forming and managing the kind of partnerships device makers need, and its relationship with the Windows development community is even more tenuous. Then there are the pricing and billing issues, which have already led to enormous bills for early adopters.

Also, the iPhone has been criticized as being less than desirable for corporate users. One of the major reasons is that the device doesn’t natively support a “push” corporate e-mail system such as Lotus Notes.

Steve Jobs launched the Apple II with a famous “Hello” on the computer’s display. By the time the iPhone is ready for prime time in Canada, most users will already have said, “Goodbye.”

p>Unified communications is the big channel play

There is money to be had in unified communications deployment in 2008. Cisco Systems knows this. Nortel Networks knows this. Microsoft knows this. And, even IBM knows this.

But, the channel hasn’t made any yet, not in any great numbers. There are not too many solution providers who can do total unified communications solutions, which is one of the reasons Dimension Data put roots in this market late last year.

Tony Olvet of IDC Canada is working on a survey looking at companies with 100 employees and up and found that unified communications adoption is at a measly eight per cent. What that means is unified communications is virtual greenfield opportunity in Canada.

Research firm Radicati Group predicted that revenue for Unified Communications solution providers would grow to nearly $20 billion by 2010. In 2006, the unified communications market worldwide was $2.6 billion.

Still a sizeable market opportunity, but one that will grow rapidly in the next few years.
Net Payne, Nortel’s vice-president of North American marketing, said unified communications was in its early stages of deployment back in 2006 and 2007.

This year and next it will roll out to the broad market.

The other reason unified communications will be the biggest growth area for the channel is that it is a multi-level solution with telephony, unified messaging, data infrastructure, desktop integration, wireless, softphone, landline communications and more. A smart solution provider will be able to increase margins dramatically as it builds a stack of unified communications solutions for customers.

Green gets trumped

If possible, this year we’ll be hearing even more hype about green IT. But an ailing economy and tightening tech budgets will trump the green movement in 2008.

Keeping IT operations running smoothly, meeting the voracious demands of the business, and putting in place an IT architecture that will prepare the company for the future will all take precedence over any substantive environmentally minded IT initiatives.

Government regulation notwithstanding, what may begin to change the picture this year will be high-profile appointments of senior executives with a green mandate. We’ve already seen it with Microsoft and Cisco, and we can expect to see several leading non-tech firms making similar announcements in the coming year.

How effective these execs will be remains to be seen. But it’s going to take a few nips at the heels to get IT departments to take green more seriously.

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