Cloud Computing, Mobility Gain Focus for 2010

CIOs can be forgiven for feeling a bit jaded about the kind of chart shown on the right-hand page of this story. After all, how often have you heard that a new technology was going to be a huge trend this year? And how often did that actually pan out?

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Most trends take far longer to develop than vendors, analysts or editors predict, so you get the same prediction, year after year: This Technology Is Really Going to Be Big This Year.

CIO Insight’s research program is intended to be an antidote to this, by providing objective input from your peers as to what’s actually happening now. In the case of emerging technologies, it’s our business every year to determine the true shape and path of adoption, so you can better plan for change.

In other words, it’s easy enough to make reasonable predictions about which of the newest trends or technologies are going to make it big. (You don’t need a survey for that.) What’s fiendishly hard is to pinpoint when it’ll happen.

That’s exactly what we do in this year’s Emerging Technologies study, however, and cloud computing provides a good example. Taking this as an umbrella term for on-demand application services of various kinds–including development in the cloud, platform as a service (PaaS) and other flavors–cloud computing has had as much publicity and hype as virtualization over the past two years.

But as far as actual activity goes–testing, piloting or deploying, as opposed to just tracking or evaluating–virtualization is far ahead of the cloud, which is likely two or three years away from a high-activity phase.

This scenario offers companies three potential paths. Many will wait for vendor offerings to mature enough that any investment they make is assured to provide long-term value. Some will move aggressively to gain the benefits sooner, while also insuring themselves–through process, evaluation and control strategies–against the risks inherent in newer technologies. The less informed will, unfortunately, take the third path: aggressive adoption without full recognition of the risks.

This study keeps you on one of the first two tracks, depending on your company’s general approach, particular needs and demeanor. You may need to play it safe in most cases, but where there’s a real opportunity you should be able to move aggressively while understanding the risk. And that’s why, last year, we created the “Most Emergent Technologies” list.

The Most Emergent Technologies are those technologies currently moving fastest into active testing or piloting. These are the technologies we predict will have true potential within the next year or so, the ones worth looking at closest now.

Last year, only 6 percent of firms we surveyed were developing in the cloud, when it first appeared in our study and was our tenth-most-emergent technology. This year, twice as many companies are using it and it’s No. 2 on our hot-list. So, it could be the right moment for your firm to pilot cloud development–when there are still considerable competitive advantages to doing so.

At this point, storage, application and server virtualization are all on a well-established growth path–and consequently have dropped off the Most Emergent Technologies list. The biggest new action in 2010 is likely to come from the virtualized desktop infrastructure (VDI), which may finally have solved the server-client computing balance problem first posed way back in the days of time-sharing.

Your application architects should be looking closely at parallelistic development–the building of multithreaded applications to take advantage of the multicore processors now commonplace in client systems. We’ve been waiting for several years to predict when this wave would actually break because, as individual processors reach their physical limit in size and speed, the use of multiple cores is the only way to speed software execution. Well, it seems likely that 2010 is the year for it: 61 percent of firms we surveyed are in some stage of evaluating or adopting parallel-processing application development; more important, 16 percent are actually testing or piloting it–a very high ratio.

Mobility, of course, has proved to be a strong trend indeed, particularly in this downturn, when non-IT savings can be had with a more distributed and mobile workforce. In this arena, we expect Twitter-like mobile updates, location-based applications and 4G to have a high level of activity in 2010. 4G, in particular, has the highest ratio of testing to current deployment in our study. Heavy interest in extensible business reporting language (XBRL), which is closely associated with the infrastructure supporting mobile applications, is also related.

In all, next year’s booming technologies seem likely to embody our emergence from the Great Recession: fitful, with a good amount of attention to cost, but harbingers of upcoming growth opportunities (see Finding 1.1 for more detail).

Cloud computing, virtualization and mobility all entered the limelight because of the net savings they represent; they now may be entering their next phase, however, in which output and efficiency count as much.

And that’s as good a lesson as any to take from this year’s study results.

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