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Every few months, a few of us give a presentation to the sales folks here on what's hot in IT and where it might be headed. It's a useful exercise for me because it forces me to step back from the daily news grind to see the bigger picture: what's hot, where we need to do better, and where we might be headed in the future.
I thought it might be helpful to share a few observations with our readers, so I hope you find this as interesting an exercise as I do. And if you see something I'm missing, feel free to add it to the comment space at the bottom.
The places where I see the biggest changes happening in IT as of late are in mobile, Big Data and software-defined everything.
The Future of Mobile
Mobile might be one of the most interesting things going on in IT right now, and not just because of the BYOD trend we've all written plenty about. As an aside, if I were a CSO, BYOD would be keeping me up at night. I'm not sure if there's any issue the "bring your own device" phenomenon doesn't touch on: Passwords, encryption, authentication, access, control, sharing, remote wipe, privacy, eDiscovery, compliance, employee exits, cloud backup, network access – these are all BYOD issues. If you take a picture of a whiteboard with your smartphone, that's company data on a personal device. If you're a CSO, it probably makes you long for the good old days of the company-controlled BlackBerry.
But what might be most interesting is where mobile devices and tracking technology may be headed and how that could change all of our lives.
Companies like RenewLondon and Presence Orb are finding ways to track mobile users that online marketers could only dream about. Renew has positioned a couple hundred recycling bins/information displays around London and is tracking smartphone users via MAC addresses with the help of Presence Orb. Participating retailers can add tracking devices in their own stores to gain more insight into their customers' behavior and potentially target campaigns toward them.
Such programs suggest a very sophisticated future for mobile advertising and tracking, one that may go well beyond where online advertising is today. Combine online tracking with mobile movement tracking and it could get even more interesting. For example, if I visit Porsche's website, I could be a dreamer, but if I walk into a Porsche dealership, the odds just went up that I have money to spend, and anyone tracking me would know that. I become a more valuable lead or advertising target at that point.
Another big issue that could be happening is the iPhone 5S, which may include biometrics and NFC. While Apple is in many ways late to the game, these developments could accelerate the growth of mobile commerce.
Let's face it, Big Data is still way too hard. If you need a team of data scientists and programmers to extract value from your data, then only a few big players will benefit.
The more you can automate Big Data and apply machine learning, the more widespread this technology will become. Everyone from IBM to startups like Context Relevant, Ayasdi and BeyondCore, to name just a few, are working on this problem.
Appliances that do all the integration work for you and applications tailored for common, specific use cases are two directions Big Data could be headed. The smarter and easier Big Data applications become, the more widely they'll be used. That may sound obvious, but until it happens the market will be limited and only a select few will reap the benefits.
Software-defined everything is another buzzword we're hearing a lot lately. The concept may overlap with virtual data centers and the private cloud, but the most important takeaway is that this seems well on its way to becoming reality.
The concept of pooled, automated data center resources, parceled out on demand as needed and with little help from IT, is an old idea, but it seems to be finally here, and a few companies like MicroStrategy are well on their way to implementing their own software-defined data centers. The software managing all this could become the Next Big Thing, and all hardware – storage, servers, switches – could become just a commodity box.
The winner in this race could become the next dominant tech company, the next IBM. The early leader appears to be VMware, but it's early and the field is wide open.
Think about just one part of this market. If you believe a recent market forecast from Plexxi, SDNCentral and Lightspeed Venture Partners, software-defined networking (SDN) alone could grow more than 3,000 percent over the next five years. That's a train that all IT vendors should be trying to catch.
Those are just a few things happening in the IT space that are catching my attention. The one thing that's certain about technology is that it's always changing, so in a few months I might come up with a different list of hot issues. I'll keep you posted.
Paul Shread is editor in chief of the IT Business Edge Network, a division of QuinStreet Enterprise.