The web is full of great ways to learn. All the information you could ever need is out there and it is continually accumulating. In its current state with around 1.5 billion web pages it would take many lifetimes to read all of what has been posted online to date. It’s an incredible wealth of data and sifting out what is useful is becoming increasingly taxing on one’s filtering skills. So how best to gather relevant, useful and interesting information. Well, one way I have found that is particularly useful to grab snippets of information, distilled and presented by people who should know what they are talking about, is to register for and watch webinars. Webinars are essentially ‘seminars on the web’, presentations if you like, given by ‘experts’ in the field to an audience of listeners who can ask questions and interact in the usual way. In theory this should be time better spent than trawling the web attempting to collate the same information, some of which may be incorrect or outdated.
Recently, I logged into Gartner  and watched a webinar about anticipated trends that would change technology over the next five years. Gartner described the webinar in the following summary paragraph; “Strategic planners have long realized that efficient planning must be accomplished by looking from the outside in. Internal trends, market trends and societal trends are rapidly converging, and many of these will have dramatic effects on infrastructure and operations planning. This presentation will highlight the most crucial trends to watch over the next five years.”
The pace of change of technology never ceases to amaze me. In the mobile device era for example, it is customer demand that is driving a lot of that change and this demand has inevitably made its presence felt in the workplace. However, the method by which IT (in general) moves forward in time isn’t just about technology, it’s also about market forces, social trends and even climate change. There are many factors to consider and from the bottom up people should continually look for ways to broaden their understanding of the multitude of influencing factors. It has been shown that the more desirable/useful IT staff have a broad ranging skill set and whilst they may have cut their teeth in development, database management, or networking; having the ability to look across verticals, organise people, and ultimately know where to look for problems are potentially more important to a business. In doing so one must also consider the future; the technologies, the demands and the trends. Where are they likely to come from and how can you, as a business best position yourself to reap maximum reward? Here, I put forward my spin on David Capuccio’s excellent webinar and present my thoughts in response to the topics discussed on the day.
1. Organisational Entrenchment and Disruptions
This is clearly a two-point problem. On the one hand this is about an organisation’s ability to respond positively to disruptive technology and use it to good effect. Of course this also means a certain amount of risk-taking, perhaps going out on a limb to embrace new tech, train staff and develop new business with interested customers. It’s a big ask, but one I feel is worth it since the alternative is not pretty, i.e. to remain rooted in old technology, potentially lose custom and nourish a culture of nonchalance in the workplace. Cultural changes are definitely required for success in a world where technology is the product, however things can go wrong and move backwards. For example Carpuccio quoted that “By 2014, 30% of organizations using SaaS Operations Management tools will switch to OnPremise due to poor service levels.” And this is predicted when we really should have seen continual growth in this area.
2. Software Networks
The first technology point in the series talks about SDNs or software-defined networks that abstracts away elements of the networks. This means entire networks can be built on-the-fly without having to provision them manually, or node-by-node. Parameters for monitoring and controlling information and flow can be effected via a centrally located software program and there are a number of advantages of having the control logic removed from the actual network. Another example of being driven by customer demand, the SDN offers less time to provision, better up-time performance, infrastructure savings etc. so definitely one to look out for in the near future.
3. Bigger Data and Storage
Big data has been around for a while, but what does this really mean for us? Well from the perspective of a business, data continues to grow, regardless of budget and effectively never ending. From a user perspective, as more people move to the internet and mobile device usage, the increase in demand will in turn generate an increase in data. What does all this mean? The answer is big data, i.e. “so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_data]. It’s pretty obvious that this brings it’s own problems, auditing, back-up and of course analyses. Big data is not industry specific and spans many verticals including defence, academia, banking and other private sector industries. Big data will change how data is managed and stored but it should also offer-up many advantages. Bigger is better, right?
4. Hybrid Cloud Services
It is anticipated that private clouds will dominate in the next five years, but there will still be a requirement for public clouds and this combination of private-public (and/or community), cloud-based service availability from vendors, each tailored to individual organisations is known as the ‘hybrid cloud’. The general advantages are pretty much the same as any cloud offering, but there are some specific ones including; the private cloud will be more versatile, responsive and secure. For example, organisations who couldn’t previously leverage cloud services at all due to regulatory or compliance issues, should be able to utilise the private cloud and still comply with regulation whilst at the same time making use of the public cloud for use with non-compliance data.
5. Client & Server Architectures
The development of both client and server architectures will continue and the variation celebrated. It is accepted that one size does not fit all and there is a need for specialised clients (and servers), and the OS that runs on them. One approach for servers is to make them more modular so that individual components can be swapped out for new versions without having to upgrade the whole machine. A driving force will also be environmental considerations, exceptionally low power machines will be in demand as will the development of specialist tools to monitor and report on energy usage. With BYOD also coming more and more into play, the client/server partnership has never been more varied and this can should be extremely beneficial to both business and consumer.
6. The Internet of Things
What does this mean? Well simply, it means that in the future many ‘things’ will be connected to the internet via smart objects, monitoring devices, radio transmission, near field devices etc. At the moment within the sporting community many athletes regularly collect, monitor and upload data and compare with other athletes in the same sport, for example. Imagine the same principle applied to numerous other household devices, the fridge that ordered food automatically, the heating system that is controlled from the mobile phone, the car that emails you when it is due for a service etc. Note the feedback loop to big data and potentially the hybrid cloud, it goes without saying that many of the points in this list are interdependant and intradependant. This particular point is the one that the consumer will be most aware of, the one that truly disrupts their lives and deliveries a society that is ‘always on’.
7. IT/OT and Appliance Madness
This point refers to the sheer multitude of appliances that are currently used in the industry and the trend that has seen that number explode in fairly recent times. From consumer-based PCs, Macs, laptops, tablets and mobile devices, to business-focused backend machines like standard servers and blade servers, the growth has been phenomenal. It also includes devices that can be virtualised by using software from the ever growing number of vendors, essentially if it can be built, it can be simulated. This growth is set to continue and it is again driven by consumer demand. It is not without its concerns however, since it is estimated that “Through 2014, employee-owned devices will be compromised by malware at more than double the rate of corporate-owned devices.” Clearly there are new challenges to be met, but knowing that this explosive trend in appliance diversification is set to continue will no doubt encourage new and innovative ways to offset these problems.
8. Virtual Data Centres
This is really the next logical step in virtualisation and the advantages it offers. With virtualised data centres, workloads could be moved from one site to another, literally anywhere in the globe in response to a demand. Virtual storage is combined with virtual servers and networking to generate an entire data centre that can be accessed through a single portal and parameters such as capacity and pooling of resources can all be changed in real-time. This is a powerful resource and will surely be at the forefront of virtualisation trends in the next few years.
9. Operational Complexity
Points 1 through 9 have all contributed to operational complexity in one way or another and according to Glass’ Law (applied to IT), “for every 25% increase in functionality in a system there is a 100% increase in the complexity of that system. [http://www.examiner.com/article/breaking-glass-s-law-of-complexity]. I don’t find this statement too surprising but it does raise a conundrum; just how complex can systems get and still be usable? It’s an interesting point and one I think that could be defended by NASA during their operation of the space shuttles, cited as many as the single most complicated system ever built. Nevertheless, complexity is par for the course during periods of rapid development and it should be recognised that the IT industry is no exception.
A really simple one to finish with and I will summarise with Carpuccio’s bulleted list of web stats:
Over 1.5 billion Web pages (and growing)
450,000 iPhone apps
Over 200,000 Android apps
10,500 radio stations
Over 300 TV networks
This is a trend that even the most dispassionate of internet futurists couldn’t fail to see, the question is; how do we respond?