Last fall, I predicted that the big IT trends for 2011 would include a emphasis on innovation, and a search for better ways to analyze the immense quantities of data we're all getting buried under. Now that the new year is actually upon us, here are five top-level trends I believe will set the tech agenda in the coming months.
1. Security Moves From Software To Hardware.
When Intel bought McAfee last year for $7.68 billion, many observers viewed it as just another manifestation of the business consolidation cycle. From my perspective, something much bigger was and is going on -- Intel has been working to disintermediate the entire, traditional software security industry, by implementing security directly on the microprocessor.
This is something that's been advancing in the background for several years already. When I spoke with Intel CTO Justin Rattner in 2009, he told me: "We're researching a general-purpose solution for being able to run high-trust computations."
You'll hearing more on this very soon -- at CES, in fact -- when Intel formally unveils its Sandy Hook family. The processors boast a "kill switch," which will enable your PC to be remotely disabled if it's stolen. They also include instruction-set extensions designed to help implement encryption keys in hardware.
This is big stuff, not simply for traditional computing but also for the cloud, where security remains the overarching worry of all users. I'll be writing a lot more about hardware-centric security throughout 2011.
2. Death of Desktop Computing. While this is perhaps the most provocative prediction, I put it second rather than first because it's also fairly obvious. (Can you say iPad?) Note that I don't mean "desktops" as in "desktop PCs," as distinct from laptops. The mini-tower is already a metaphorical tombstone to a computing era now past. What I'm getting at is an atmospheric observation that desktops and laptops, as a mode of user engagement are the past, not the future.
This is true notwithstanding the fact that you're probably reading this article -- particularly if you're at work -- on your laptop. Go home, though, and see how your kids engage with the Internet. Chances are its via a smartphone or netbook. Slightly older folks, having more $$$, favor tablets.
What it all boils down to is, to revamp that canonical Sun Microsystems catchphrase yet again, the browser is the computer. Or, we are all thin clients now, even if a particular piece of hardware we're holding remains heftier than it really needs to be.
This trend is only going to accelerate. I might also archly ask, now that traditional computers have become less relevant, mightn't 2011 finally be the year of desktop Linux?
3. For-Real Greening of Servers.
As I wrote in my State Of Server Technology 2010 research report for InformationWeek Analytics, the most exciting platform innovations in recent years have occurred around the processor, rather than in it.
Specifically, this design activity has focused on making servers less power hungry, the better to cut down on the date-center electricity costs which are every CIOs nightmare.
I don't mean to detract from the great server architectures released by Intel and AMD over the past few years. There will be some exciting new processors this year, too.
However, compute cycles are no longer the gating factor for performance or, for want of a better phrase, operational affordability. (This is a rolled-up way of saying that processing is ubiquitous, or, better yet, computing is free.) Where the differentiating rubber meets the road, and one of the arenas in which Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, and Oracle will compete, is in who can built the most efficient servers.
I got tuned into the significance of "less power is more" when I talked with Hewlett-Packard chief blade-server architect Gary Thome early last year. Here's a snippet from Server Den: Inside HP's Converged Infrastructure:
"Thome really got passionate when we began talking power and cooling. . . 'We can throttle CPUs, voltage-regulator modules, memory, fans, power supplies, all the way down to trying to keep the power consumed as low as possible at any given time.' "
OK, so let's admit that it's hard to make server power and cooling interesting. Let's also take it on faith that, in 2011, its boringness will be inversely proportional to its importance.
4. 'Internet Of Things' Takes Off.
Is Big Brother watching? That's the concern of folks who've been wondering what'll happen when their coffee makers and microwave ovens are connected to the Internet. However, such privacy worries obscure the real significance of the coming hook up of pretty much everything electric to that big network in the ether.
The Chinese, which are out front here like they soon will be for the world economy overall, call this the "Internet of Things."
For consumers, it's a chance to save some money on electricity by having appliances tune their usage to off-peak times. (And also to worry if some government functionary is monitoring how much power you send to your no-doubt-legal hydroponic plant setup.)
For technology vendors, it's an obvious opportunity to embed computing capability in everything. Intel is one company which, in particular, sees a huge market here. However, they believe "smart TV" is the biggest embedded play. Strictly speaking, Googly televisions are not part of the Internet of Things. I don't believe such TV-cum-Internet appliances will ever take off in a big way. Computationally enabled "things," though, could sneak up on us in the chaotic fashion which is the hallmark of the 'Net.
5. HP Gets Back to Business.
In 2010, Hewlett-Packard was the New York Jets of computer companies, in that their off-field flubs distracted from a pretty decent record of real accomplishments.
It's still a mystery how one non-relationship could set of such a tortured sequence of events, in which Mark Hurd left the CEO position at HP and moved over to Oracle as co-president, while ex-SAP CEO Leo Apotheker assumed Hurd's old job.
In 2011, assuming HP's board lets bygones be bygones, there's good chance we'll spend more time talking about the computing powerhouse in terms of technology leadership. As Global CIO guru Bob Evans has written, HP has a claim on server market supremacy. The company is also fielding a solid data-center strategy in the form of its Converged Infrastructure offerings.
As well, what formerly looked like Carly Fiorina's folly -- the acquisition of Compaq -- is now no longer widely viewed as a failure. In a similar vein, new CEO Apotheker will have an easy shot at changing the narrative from "left SAP after less than a year as sole CEO" to "new CEO who led HP to a bunch of successful quarters." Heck, he's already partway there.
Apotheker also has an opportunity to establish himself as an industry voice of reason -- or, at least, a non-bomb thrower. But first he'll have to come out of his bunker.
Follow me on Twitter: (@awolfe58.)
What's your take? Let me know, by leaving a comment below.
Like this blog? Subscribe to its RSS feed: (here.)
My videos on ( YouTube.)
Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.