What’s hot in 2007

Will take-up of Windows Vista beat expectations? Will power and cooling problems begin to bite? IT Weekly looks at the important technologies and trends for next year

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By  Administrator Published  December 29, 2006

It is traditional in many countries to use the start of the new year to take stock of one’s situation and to make resolutions aimed at changing it for the better in the next year.

Whether this be personal New Year’s resolutions or a business review, there is no doubt that the exercise can prove extremely beneficial – providing you manage to stick to the resolutions that you make.

By identifying some of the key trends in ICT usage over the coming year, IT administrators can look to see what areas they need to focus on. So what does 2007 hold in store?

According to analyst firm Gartner, CIOs and IT managers will face mounting demand for business growth and agility, rapid development of consumer technology and increasing availability of new infrastructure tools over the course of next year, suggesting a busy time ahead for all of us, if nothing else.

The first big event of the New Year is likely to be the mainstream launch next month of Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system. This is set to be one of, if not the, biggest product releases in 2007. With widespread availability to both businesses and consumers scheduled for the end of January next year, the operating system is sure to have a massive impact on the entire IT industry, from end users to PC manufacturers to software providers.

There will be intense interest from all sectors in the take-up of the OS during its first year. Microsoft claims that by the end of next year there will be active deployments covering approximately 20% of all desktops in the enterprise space, making it a mainstream product in anyone’s book. Even so, the general consensus among industry observers is that it will be at least two years before most businesses look to roll out Vista, and not till the end of the decade before we see the majority of PCs running the operating system.

A recent IT Weekly poll of businesses in the region found almost three quarters of all respondents were not looking to upgrade any time soon. Around 45% of respondents said they had no plans to upgrade to Vista, while 27.5% said they would not consider upgrading until their next PC replacement cycle.

A survey by US online retailer CDW revealed similar sentiments. Of the 87% of IT decision-makers polled that said their companies planned to implement Vista, only 20% said they would do so in the next year.
The operating system offers a radically redesigned graphical user interface (GUI), beefed up security features and the addition of desktop search functionality. In addition to these, Microsoft has also included improvements in user account control, as well as built-in self-diagnostic tools, encryption capabilities, and virtual collaboration environments.

As a consequence of the enhancements, the cost of computers is also set to increase. More memory, faster processors and more powerful graphics chips will all be needed to get the full Vista experience. According to market intelligence firm iSuppli, the cost of components for PC makers is set to jump almost 20% from US$500 to US$600. The firm said the cost to end-users would be significantly more than this due to the manufacturers’ mark up.

“As with previous operating systems, there is expected to be a surge in sales in peripherals, memory and displays to meet the new system requirements,” says Aaron Fright, regional manager for ViewSonic Middle East and Africa. However, he adds, Vista also includes brand new interface technologies that take advantage of a PC’s underlying hardware in ways that were previously attempted only by 3D games.

“From a user experience standpoint, the new user interface and digital content Management features are some of the greatest advances with Windows Vista, and a number of the additional display features will be best suited to widescreen displays,” Fright says. Windows Sidebar, for example, is a pane on the side of the Windows Vista desktop that organises gadgets and makes them easy to access. Windows Sidebar is the perfect complement to widescreen monitors and also works seamlessly on standard displays.

There will also be a lot of observers looking to see how Vista’s release will affect industry sectors like security and search. The new improvements in the operating system’s security, and the way it has gone about making those improvements, have ruffled more than a few feathers, and with the software giant releasing its own security suite earlier this year there will be a lot of pressure on security vendors like Symantec and McAfee to differentiate themselves from what Microsoft is offerings.

“Microsoft entering any new market has a displacement effect,” acknowledges Justin Doo, managing director of Trend Micro Middle East. “Microsoft rarely enters a new market without clearly developed strategies and objectives.”

While Doo says he expects to see more activity from Microsoft’s sales and marketing teams, he points out that “Microsoft and security are not words that are often used together in a complimentary manner” so the impact in the business environment is unlikely to be strong. “We would expect their entry to have a higher impact in the consumer/soho space traditionally dominated by other antivirus companies,” Doo says.
Microsoft’s battle with rival Google will be another area to watch. Will the inclusion of desktop search in Vista be able to stop the internet search giant gaining any more ground in the desktop space as well? Google has already seen off Microsoft in the fight for internet search supremacy and some think Microsoft will have a tough time stopping its competitor.

And then there is assessing the value Vista has to the business and end-user. Will the operating system’s new search functions and graphical user interface (GUI) really increase employee productivity in the way Microsoft is claiming? And will the new security enhancements to the platform really provide businesses with any more protection from the ever-increasing threat from cyber criminals? The answers to these and other questions will all become clearer next year as the operating system’s installed base begins to grow.

“I think most of the IT managers will be evaluating in 2007 whether to upgrade now or later and by the time they [IT managers] are ready to install Windows Vista on a large scale they will have a pretty good idea of how secure it is going to be,” says Sushma Kajaria, business unit manager, security, at OnLine Distribution.

Virtualisation


Another potential tipping point is the increased adoption of virtualisation technologies, driven in part by the greater number of multi-core processor solutions now available.

Virtualisation is set to become a key component of IT infrastructures during 2007 as advancements in technology allow businesses to further consolidate and securely manage their IT environments.

The technology that allows businesses to run multiple virtual machines on a single piece of hardware has revolutionised the data centre in recent years and with the continued increase in the number of cores being built into microprocessors, next year is expected to see much greater and more effective use of the technology.

Chip multi-threading (CMT) is now a reality and gone are the days of just looking at clock speed,” says Chris Cornelius, managing director, Sun Microsystems MENA.

According to Info-Tech Research Group, businesses can currently run an average of six virtual machines per microprocessor, but with the advent of quad-core chips this year — and further increases in the number of cores per processor to follow — this number is set to rise exponentially.

“The industry is moving closer to the target of higher consolidation rates with the introduction of quad-core processors that are at the early stages of deployment in the marketplace,” states Matt Brudzynski, senior research analyst at Info-Tech.

“These processors provide greater throughput to disk storage and will help suppliers more effectively deliver on consolidation promises.”

According to analyst firm Butler Group, the coming year will see widespread use of virtualisation in all areas of IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, networks and clients.

“The virtualisation of the IT infrastructure, including servers, storage, networks and clients, is a key technology to improve the flexibility and utilisation of the data centre,” it states in its outlook for 2007.

Sun’s Cornelius agrees that virtualisation is likely to have a huge impact on storage. “To get the most out of a data center, you have to consolidate and virtualise, not just servers but storage too,” he says.

IDC predicts that next year will see what it calls the next wave in virtualisation emerge — Virtualisation 2.0 — with users focusing on continuity, disaster recovery and high availability.

In its infrastructure software predictions for next year, the analyst firm says management of virtual infrastructure will take centre stage at large enterprises, extending adoption of virtualisation across test, development, and production.

IDC also says virtualisation and security will become stronger focal points for ITIL/ITSM vendors, who will do more to add support for virtualisation and managing virtual environments to their service management offerings.

“System infrastructure software is being impacted by game-changing forces, such as new use cases for virtualisation and wider adoption of ITIL within the enterprise,” says Tim Grieser, programme vice president of IDC’s Enterprise System Management Software group.

“Winners will be those who are best able to harness these game-changing technologies to lower operational costs or increase corporate agility.”

One of the knock-on effects of this rise in the use of virtualisation is that server sales will take a hit in the coming years as companies no longer need to purchase as many physical servers.

Gartner predicts that there will be a significant impact on x86-class server sales. The analyst firm says the total number of virtual and physical x86 servers will grow at a cumulative annual rate of 12% to 2010, however physical server growth rate will only be about 5% annually.

“The market is still growing. But this could be an early indication of a slowdown; it’s something everybody in this market is watching,” comments Gartner research director Jeff Hewitt.

Acquisitions


Another effect of the rapid growth of the virtualisation market and increasing importance of the technology is that it has sparked a flurry of mergers and acquisitions as vendors buy up virtualisation companies in order to get a technological leg-up in the market, and analysts predict this trend will continue in 2007.

Already the industry has seen Microsoft acquire Connectix, EMC snap up VMware and Veritas buy Ejascent, and the Butler Group highlights Ardence and SWSoft as potential targets for acquiring vendors in the coming year.

Acquisitions are not going to be confined to vendors in the virtualisation space of course. Consolidation will on everyone’s agenda and is a trend likely to continuing even beyond 2007.

“Larger players will either grow organically or via acquisitions and will take away market share from smaller players or tap new markets which have not been explored so far for standard enterprise software,” says Sergio Maccotta, SAP managing director Middle East.

“As always, there is merger and acquisition activity and within the enterprise software space there is always rumour circulating,” says Derek Morrison, regional manager for Cognos Middle East. “My view is that the smaller niche players will be absorbed to address some sweetspots not currently addressed by the large ERP (enterprise resource planning) vendors,” he adds.

Morrison says that the ERP market is nearing maturity here in the Middle East, with organisations now looking at making sense of the transactional information they have generated. “We see this trend accelerating in corporate performance management (CPM) and the presentation and delivery of the information held in the transaction layer enterprise wide, allowing management and the executive access to information which reflects where they are today and providing them with the ability to plan for tomorrow,” he says.

Maccotta agrees that the usage of enterprise software has evolved rapidly here in the region. “In addition, driven by aggressive expansion and modernisation initiatives that are spearheaded by local governments, we perceive within the region a stronger and stronger demand for global industry standards to be quickly adopted as best practises to compete at the global level,” he says.

Maccotta expects these global industry standards to include open source technology, as Middle East firms look to adopt open source as part of their IT strategy. “A reduced TCO (total cost of ownership), thanks to open source technology, will not only represent a benefit for the single companies adopting it, but will further facilitate the region’s development,” he says.

Reducing costs is certainly going to be a key concern for CIOs and IT managers next year.

“As corporate environments are changing and business is becoming more competitive, every opportunity to raise corporate profits needs to be examined from instilling operational efficiencies to reducing large-scale capital costs or providing simple solutions to the more complex,” says Ben Gale, general manager, Sales and Marketing, Xerox MEA. “CIOs and IT managers will be looking at ways to cut costs while implementing and maintaining a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure that enables them to meet their business objectives 24/7.

“By defining effectively what is required in terms of IT solutions then the budget needed to meet the business’s needs can be controlled and minimized. CIOs and IT Managers will be looking for companies and suppliers that can offer tailor made solutions or who will work closely with them to help examine and define their business requirements and produce the best results,” he adds.

Sun’s Cornelius highlights the importance of information lifecycle management (ILM) technology to help reduce costs. “The more forward-thinking companies in the market have realized that you can’t keep throwing money at storage by buying more and more hard drives — it’s just too expensive,” he says. “We would expect ILM to become a major trend in 2007. It really is time to work out a proper data management strategy, for most customers, to decide what they store, for how long and where. A proper ILM policy balances the cost of storing and managing information with its changing business value.”

Cornelius also highlights the growth in regulatory and compliance conditions as creating more stringent requirements for data management. “With entities such as Bahrain Financial Harbour, DIFC and the growth of IPOs in this region we are now seeing international standards coming into the market,” he says. “For some organisations this process can be a shock if they have been not kept effective records or had to make these records available to third parties, but not for much longer. As regulatory rules and the number of disaster recovery implementations increase, ILM will help organisations adhere to new standards and incur minimum management challenges.”

Power

Energy efficiency is also going to be a massive issue in the coming year. Power consumption and cooling capacity are set to dominate the IT industry’s agenda for the foreseeable future and many analysts believe it is going to get worse before it gets better.

The issue is both a problem from a data centre perspective in terms of rising electricity costs and the ability to adequately cool increasingly crowded data centres, and on a broader scale where the density of building in some cities means there simply is not enough power to go around. Dubai has experienced power problems first-hand with a number of power outages affecting areas of the city over the course of this year.

Gartner predicts that by 2008, nearly 50% of data centres worldwide will lack the necessary power and cooling capacity to support high-density equipment.

“With higher densities of processors proliferating, problems in this area continue to grow,” the analyst firm states in its year-end predictions.

“Next year the big issue is going to be energy,” agrees Peter Hannaford, APC EMEA business development director. “APC is making big inroads now and there is a lot of work going into making our solutions much more energy efficient. Not only because it saves the customer lots of money, but there is also this contribution of saving the planet that everyone is aware of right now.”

Hannaford claims that it is possible for customers to reduce their energy costs by as much as 70% by implementing a number of measures, the biggest one being not over-building the data centre. “You only put in to a data centre what you really need. That means you don’t over engineer, you don’t have waste and that has a really big impact on energy consumption,” he states.

Cutting costs, reducing energy consumption and looking at adopting new technologies are all goals that CIOs should be working towards for the year ahead. Remember though that New Year resolutions only work if you stick at them.

“I think most of the IT managers will be evaluating in 2007 whether to upgrade now or later and by the time they [IT managers] are ready to install Windows Vista on a large scale they will have a pretty good idea of how secure it is going to be.”


“As always, there is merger and acquisition activity and within the enterprise software space there is always rumour circulating.”


Sun’s Project Blackbox


With the cost of setting up a data centre, and the space in which to put it, increasing sharply every year, solutions to combat these growing expenses are becoming of vital importance to businesses everywhere.

These financial pressures are forcing vendors to come up with new and innovative ways of packaging and managing hardware that give customers smaller and cheaper solutions, but without compromising performance.

One solution that looks to have the potential to change the way companies view the data centre is Sun Microsystems’ Project Blackbox.

Scheduled for commercial availability by the middle of 2007, Blackbox squeezes an entire data centre — including compute, storage and network infrastructure, along with high-efficiency power and cooling — into a standard shipping container.

Sun claims the solution, which has been tagged the first ‘prefab’ data centre, will cost one-hundredth of the price to set up, one-fifth of the price per square foot, and be 20% more power efficient than a traditional data centre.

The Blackbox will be available in either a 20-foot or 40-foot long shipping container and, run on Sun’s Solaris 10 operating system, will be configured to hold up to 250 Sun Fire servers, up to 2Pbytes of storage, or 7Tbytes of memory. The concept grabbed headlines this year when it was announced in October and many in the industry have been intrigued by the possibilities that the portable data centre could create, especially around speed of deployment and the environments in which it can be deployed.

“Project Blackbox offers some intriguing possibilities for clients struggling with power, cooling, space-constraint or timing issues,” wrote Gartner in a research note.

“The more significant potential benefit is installation speed. Traditional data centres require months to design, engineer and construct. The Sun unit could be shipped and installed in a few days,” the firm added.

The project may also have some specific benefits to companies in the Middle East. With the high number of green field sites — companies setting up IT infrastructure for the first time — Blackbox is being pitched as a quick and easy solution to their data centre needs.

“The thought is that Blackbox is the ultimate ‘green field’ deployment vehicle. No prior data centre is needed. Just install, hook up to power, cooling, and networks, and turn it on,” writes Jonathan Eunice, founder and principal IT advisor at consultancy Illuminata.

Another reason Blackbox may have a big impact in the region when it is released next year is the ability to deploy the data centre in remote locations with harsh environments.

Sun will be specifically targeting the Gulf’s oil and gas sector, and claims it has already received enquiries about the solution from some of the region’s biggest players in the sector.

“Blackbox has real benefits for oil and gas companies, for example, when they go offshore, because they can easily install one container, fully-loaded, and perform all their seismic analysis, everything, directly on the platform and then remove it when they don’t need it any more and move it elsewhere,” said Dario Wiser, Sun south and east EMEA product marketing manager.

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