ARN

The year ahead

ARN takes a look at some of the industry's top technology and trend predictions for 2008

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.

Communications

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.

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Security

The move towards mobility and the take-up of PDAs and flash drives is posing more security risks than users can poke a USB stick at. And these threats are not only coming from the outside but beginning to evolve within organisations.

Firewall Systems marketing director, Nick Verykios, said customers have begun asking resellers about their security policy and what could fulfil that.

"There will be an extension on security policies right to the fingers of the users with what ever device they have got in their hand. If it's got corporate or personal data, it's going to be locked down to that point," he said.

Symantec endpoint security solutions product manager Asia-Pacific, Robert Pregnell, said attackers would start to move onto new platforms as the uptake of mobile devices becomes more prominent.

"We will see attackers targeting new mobile platforms and in another way, virtual gaming worlds," he said. "Wherever there is a new platform, more people, money or information that the attacker can use for money, that's where we will see increased activity.

"People will become as mindful and protective of their information as they have been for many years with their money."

Calvert Technologies principal consultant, Dean Calvert, said password protection was slowly dropping off and suggested two-factor authentication securities could take centre stage in 2008.

"From a technology perspective, I think we will continue to see operating improvements in system security," he said. Dimension Data security general manager, Darren O'Loughlin, agreed encryption technology should play a bigger role for a lot of organisations. Meanwhile, WhiteGold Solutions managing director, Dominic Whitehand, saw vulnerability assessment and management, along with data leakage and secure applications acceleration, as strong growth areas. Secure storage and Wi-Fi were other significant and emerging issues to address, he said.

"There are massive amounts of information being sent, downloaded, duplicated and shared across the Internet," he said. "Those technologies that can assist in the transmission, storage and delivery of this information will be the real winners."

On the threat landscape front, Trend Micro premium services manager, Adam Biviano, predicted Web-based and Vista attacks would continue to evolve next year.

"Some websites that were once good will all of a sudden turn malicious," he said. "People are going to be using Vista for financial transactions, purchasing online or housing valuable information, which means Vista is always going to be a target. There is going to be similar types of threats occur on the Vista platform as there has been across earlier versions of Windows."

Storage

After experiencing strong growth this year, industry pundits claim we'll witness the development and implementation of current storage trends into next year. HP sees the lines between storage and server technology blurring, product marketing manager, Mark Nielsen, said. He also identified software as a key concern in the New Year.

"The reality is that customers are suffering with the explosion of growth in storage needs, and they are asking for software that will give them better control in management," he said.

Gartner storage analyst, Phil Sargeant, said deduplication and thin provisioning are going to be hot technologies for 2008 as organisations seek to improve storage efficiency. Related to that, archiving will be a big issue as it continues to mature in the open systems arena.

According to XSI Data Solutions CEO, Glenn Gray, one of the challenges for organisations is understanding what the right deduplication and storage virtualisation solutions are for their business. This was particularly vital as organisations consolidated.

Gray also claimed data tape as a storage medium would lose out as solid state disks and iSCSI solutions became further entrenched.

Sargeant said that with the take-up of SATA technology, large organisations and SMBs would adopt a tiered approach towards storage and archiving - disk to disk to tape.

"Like large organisations, SMBs are finding the amount of information they have is growing, and even tens of TBs are impractical to restore from tape, so they're essentially being forced to adopt tiered storage," he said. "Luckily the cost of a secondary disk is reducing."

Managing director at Dubbo-based reseller Axxis Technology, Mathew Dickerson, said SMBs were doubling their storage requirements every 12 months with the advent of scanning paperwork, electronic filing, email usage and archiving.

"This means clients who had never considered storage outside their server storage are looking at NAS and SAN devices as viable alternatives," he said.

With the growth in information, as well as increasing compliance and regulation needs, 2008 will see increasing pressure on organisations to re-examine infrastructure and management.

Managing director of storage distributor AustStor, Lachie MacDonald, predicted higher uptake of Ultra Density Optical technology in companies where reliable and compliant archiving was important such as government, financial, legal and medical sectors.

EMC national product manager, Clive Gold, said going green would continue to be at the forefront in 2008, with technology to slow down idle disc drives becoming popular.

Web 2.0 was another force that would change business storage demands, he said.

"It's an area people are looking towards at the moment. With sites such as Facebook and YouTube, the amount of data that is flowing is enormous, and as business intelligence takes on these features there's going to be a huge demand for bulk enterprise storage," Gold said.

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Applications

The software-as-a-service landscape should also start to take shape next year as vendors fine-tune their market strategies, ED's Peach said. Services could include all types of business applications, from payroll through to CRM and accounting.

"It will become clearer what the major needs will be for vendors getting software-as-a-service out to resellers and users," he said. "There's nothing for the channel to worry about - in the past there's been different types of delivery for software but there has always been a role for the channel. I see the channel's role becoming more apparent next year."

Meanwhile, take-up of Windows Vista, along with the introduction of Microsoft's Server 2008 (codenamed Longhorn) will also significantly alter the software landscape, industry representatives agreed.

The proliferation of Web 2.0 technologies is also expected to influence enterprises more in the coming 12 months. And in the business applications space, massive consolidation this year will see SAP, Microsoft and Oracle cement their positions as leaders in the field, Red Rock Consulting director, Jonathan Rubinsztein, said.

The device

As the remote workforce and consumerisation of IT increases, hardware form factors are becoming dominated by mobility and style. Synnex product manager, Jason Lee, said people were looking for better featured devices and want products personalised to fit into their lifestyle.

Toshiba product marketing manager, Matthew Tumminello, cited dual operating system requirements - both Vista and XP - as a key issue in 2008. And as touchscreens and Web cam technology became cheaper, they are featuring in Toshiba's value proposition range, he said. Other emerging functionality include embedded 3G and HD-DVD technologies.

"In late 2007 we introduced a number of firsts to the notebook. Solid state disc drives improve shock resistance, power consumption and speed, trans-reflective screens allow users to switch of the screen backlight to view in daylight, and our world first 7mm optical drive means the notebook weighs less than 1kg," Tumminello said.

Tegatech principal, Hugo Ortega, said the ultramobile PC (UMPC) market was ready to spike in 2008 as price, Internet connectivity and battery life finally met user expectations. Widespread 3G and the use of full versions of Windows Vista should see UMPCs take a primary role as a mobile device for users, he said. However, Altech Computers managing director, Antony Sheen, wasn't convinced UMPCs processors would be powerful enough to integrate fully into businesses or the home in the short-term.

"I think in a couple of years UMPCs will become mainstream, but it's still an early adopter toy at this stage," he said.

Sheen forecast an increase in Windows Vista uptake as well as Microsoft's 2008 and home server products. DirectX 10 technology was also rising in popularity with games developers and he saw high-end desktop products with multiple graphics cards and cooling systems as a key growth area.

Service

With utilisation and management driving customer technology take-up, Cisco's Sheard and Calvert Technologies' Dean Calvert agreed managed services would be a major influencer in the channel in 2008.

"Our channel partners are already investing in a managed services play - for example, NetStar has developed a suite of managed services for SMBs," Sheard said. "Partners are reinventing themselves around a managed services play, which is ideal for getting into the SMB market."

Axxis Technology's Dickerson said managed services take-up had accelerated over the past year.

"I've been speaking on managed services since the beginning of last year and it's taken off," he said.

ED's Peach said its key vendors were pouring more investment into SMB and expected this to continue as a market focus.

"Vendors are not just talking about it - we're starting to see them start to put in place staff, products and programs, particularly in the last six months," he said.

At a broader level, DiData's Altit expected more customers to move towards selective outsourcing. He argued there was a consistent transition towards centralising infrastructure.

"Customers want to selectively outsource things that aren't core to their business or that don't make them money," Altit said.

But for 3D's Luxford, the best news for the channel was that customers were ramping up spending.

"We've found over the last 12 months that there's been a view of IT not just as a cost saver but also as a revenue generator, which means we're getting involved in more exciting projects," he said.