Unified communications and IP telephony, virtualisation and SMB were on the lips of almost every IT vendor this year, but what will be the biggest technologies and trends next year? ARN asked a cross-section of the community for their predictions on what would be hot in 2008.
With IP telephony now prevalent in the corporate community, conversations this year turned towards how to achieve a unified communications (UC) platform. Cisco regional channel manager, Jeff Sheard, tipped 2008 as the year when UC applications will really start to mature and develop a business case.
"UC will start to provide ROI on top of the VoIP and IP telephony standards - we're moving away from just PABX replacement or toll bypass," he said. "We'll start to see presence applications making a big difference and telepresence become mainstream. There's a lot of third-party vendors in the education, retail and health markets starting to bite."
Avaya director of indirect business, Andy Hurt, said its main focus for 2008 would also be on UC and how it could be used to enable a customer's business processes.
"Until now, people have not been able to justify the ROI in the way unified communications has been sold to them - quantifying how it improves productivity or helps you interact better with customers has been difficult," he said. "Once you start applying it to specific business processes like healthcare or banking and finance however, you're able to show the improvements.
"Companies have been seeing unified communications as a great thing to have on the desktop and for connecting to their calendar or click-to-dial. What we are saying is that we need to bind those things back into the applications companies are running, such as SAP or Oracle.
"Our partners will need to have a good understanding not only of the technology, but also need to know the customer's business better." CEO of networking integrator 3D Networks, Chris Luxford, agreed corporates were getting increasingly active around unified communications, although he predicted it wouldn't be a mainstream technology until 2009 or 2010.
"With unified communications we are going through the single biggest change to the way we as humans communicate since the introduction of the telephone," he said. "The Internet was probably the next big shift, but with unified coms you're bringing together physical communication, telephony and all of those Internet-based communication mechanisms on any device, anytime."
Luxford said customers from a wide range of industries were being drawn to unified communications because there were so many different pieces to the puzzle.
"Some are looking at it for audio and videoconferencing, others are looking at it as a way to deliver better productivity to mobile workers and then there's those using presence in the call centre," he said.
Hurt said market drivers included the need for remote networking access as well as the ability to work anywhere, at any time, from a single device. Technologies such as 3G, videoconferencing and voice were also maturing to a point where this was achievable.
Virtualisation and the datacentre
As if it wasn't big enough this year, virtualisation is tipped to be one of the most significant technologies influencing the market in 2008.
"If you look at server virtualisation for a typical enterprise, it's only about 20-30 per cent at best," Cisco's Sheard said. "There's tremendous opportunity to economise and make a more efficient datacentre environment with storage and server utilisation."
According to Gartner analysts, virtual machines, which now represent 6 per cent of servers worldwide, will account for 14 per cent of servers by 2010. While this will push down the value of the virtual hypervisor, the importance of virtual management tools will rise.
Dimension Data datacentre solutions manager, Ronnie Altit, predicted server and desktop virtualisation will become prevalent in the coming 12 months as organisations, particularly at the smaller end, became comfortable virtualising production systems. And while VMware was assured of leading the pack for a while yet, he flagged the launch of Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 (Longhorn) early next year and subsequent enhancements as something that could shake things up.
"It will be really interesting to see how the virtualisation market players out there - VMware, XenSource and Microsoft," he said. "We'll see a significant amount of consolidation and centralisation. Customers will be looking for specialist partners who will do more than just one thing - for example, virtualisation but also implementing that in a broader environment.
"Throughout it all, data will continue to grow, so there will be more focus on data management and encryption."
But Express Data vendor manager, David Peach, suggested competition could heat up a lot earlier.
"The big incumbent has done a good job being first to market, but I think we'll see some real competition in this space in 2008," he said.
For Citrix senior sales manager of strategic services, Adam Jaques, virtualisation adoption will move from a point technology into an end-to-end managed solution in 2008. Citrix, which recently acquired virtualisation vendor, XenSource, is beta testing its Xen desktop platform for release early next year.
A driving factor towards virtualisation is customers looking to use existing infrastructure rather than purchase new hardware, he said.
"In 2008, we'll be gelling these technologies into an integrated, workable form," Jaques said. "In the past there's been a lot of smoke but not real fire. Now these solutions are viable and we're able to centralise people's desktops. That has advantages in terms of fixing machines and operations, upgrading operating systems and addressing the risk of insecure data.
"There will be three key areas - server virtualisation, desktop virtualisation and application virtualisation - and these will be integrated together to solve real business problems."
Citrix director of field sales, Phil Dean-Jones, claimed there were about 500 million desktops in use worldwide, with as many as 100 million refreshed each year.
"Desktop virtualisation will become a viable alternative to distributed computing... the real opportunity is for our business partners is in helping businesses drive cost PC costs and allowing them to be more agile," he said.
Having a solid green footprint will also be an increasing consideration in the datacentre. Gartner also expects CIOs will be accountable for energy usage by 2011.
"We have seen the early stages this year. In 2008, customers will be keen to understand IT in terms of its carbon footprint and having a green ROI," Cisco's Sheard said.