Gartner's top 10 strategic technologies for 2008

Green IT, unified communications, virtualization, mashups among most important, Gartner says

The 10 most important technologies IT executives should examine in 2008 include green IT, unified communications, virtualization, mashups and Web technologies, Gartner says.

Which technologies must any good IT executive examine in 2008? The list includes green power, unified communications, virtualization, mashups and social software.

Gartner has identified the “Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2008,” and is urging IT executives to think about the risk of not implementing each one. If your competitor masters one of these technologies and you don’t, will you be at a strategic disadvantage?

Gartner analysts David Cearley and Carl Claunch reviewed the list Tuesday at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla. Here’s a summary:

1. Green IT

This one is taking on a bigger role for many reasons, including an increased awareness of environmental danger; concern about power bills; regulatory requirements; government procurement rules; and a sense that corporations should embrace social responsibility.

Chip designers have realized that lowering per-core performance by 20% actually cuts power usage in half, so adding cores can improve chip performance and efficiency, Claunch said.

But IT is still responsible for 2% of all carbon releases, and it’s coming from many sources. “Fast memory is getting to be a surprisingly high energy consuming item,” Claunch said.

One of the next steps is taking the power-saving features of mobile devices such as phones and laptops and bringing them to more computing platforms.

“We’ve been confronting the power problem on mobile devices for a long time because of those pesky batteries,” he said. “We can take those learnings and put them into servers. In the future, we’ll have servers that will go to sleep if they’re not being used.”

2. Unified Communications (UC)

UC functionality is drawing from five core markets: voicemail, PBXs, e-mail and calendaring, IM, and conferencing and collaboration. The key trends are communications becoming IP-based, analog systems switching to digital, and growing integration among voice, network, storage, sensors and video technologies.

“In a world in which all the information is digital and carried on IP, the opportunity and advantages of carrying it on a unified infrastructure are becoming obvious,” the analysts stated in a slideshow presentation. “Organizational issues must be addressed to take advantage of this unification, because responsibilities and budgets are so often fragmented among groups such as building maintenance, voice communications, data communications and storage administration.”

3. Business Process Management

BPM is more of a business discipline than a technology, but is necessary to make sure the technology of service-oriented architectures (SOA) deliver business value, Cearley said. It’s also important for dealing with laws like Sarbanes-Oxley that require business to define processes, he said.

“SOA and BPM have common objectives,” Cearley said. “They’re both focused on driving agility, driving business process improvement, flexibility and adaptability within the organization. SOA is a key mechanism that makes BPM easier.”

4. Metadata Management 

Metadata is the foundation for information infrastructure and is found throughout your IT systems: in service registries and repositories, Web semantics, configuration management databases (CMDB), business service registries and in application development.

“Metadata is not just about information management,” Cearley said. “You need to look beyond that. Metadata is everywhere.”

5. Virtualization 2.0

“Virtualization 2.0” goes beyond consolidation. It simplifies the installation and movement of applications, makes it easy to move work from one machine to another, and allows changes to be made without impacting other IT systems, which tend to be rigid and interlinked, Claunch said.

There are also disaster recovery benefits, since the technology lets you restack virtual systems in different orders in recovery centers, providing more flexibility.

“Virtualization is a key enabling technology because it provides so many values,” Claunch said. “Frankly it’s the Swiss Army knife of our toolkit in IT today.”

6. Mashups & Composite Applications

Mashups, a Web technology that combines content from multiple sources, has gone from being a virtual unknown among IT executives to being an important piece of enterprise IT systems. “Only like 18 months ago, very few people (knew what a mashup was),” Cearley said. “It’s been an enormous evolution of the market.”

U.S. Army intelligence agents are using mashups for situational awareness by bringing intelligence applications together. Enterprises can use mashups to merge the capabilities of complementary applications, but don’t go too far.

“Examine the application backlog for potential relief via mashups,” the analysts stated in their slideshow. “Investigate power users’ needs but be realistic about their capabilities to use mashups.”

7. Web Platform & WOA

Web-oriented architecture, a version of SOA geared toward Web applications, is part of a trend in which the number of IT functions being delivered as a service is greatly expanding. Beyond the well-known software-as-a-service, Cearley said over time everything could be delivered as a service, including storage and other basic infrastructure needs.

“This really is a long-term model that we see evolving from a lot of different parts of the market,” Cearley said. It’s time for IT executives to put this on their radar screens and conduct some “what-if” scenarios to see what makes sense for them, he said.

8. Computing Fabrics

Today’s blade server design places memory and processors into a fixed combination inside a blade, and until recently neither memory or processors from one blade could be combined with that of other blades.

New server designs will allow several blades to be merged across a “computing fabric,” in which they will appear as a single server to an operating system.

“The fabric based server of the future will treat memory, processors and I/O cards as components in a pool, combining and recombining them into particular arrangements to suit the owner’s needs,” the analysts wrote. “This evolution will simplify the provisioning of capacity to meet growing needs.”

9. Real World Web

Increasingly ubiquitous network access with reasonably useful bandwidth is enabling the beginnings of what analysts are calling the “real world Web,” Claunch said. The goal is to augment reality with universal access to information specific to locations, objects or people. This might allow a vacationer to snap a picture of a monument or tourist attraction and immediately receive information about the object, instead of flipping through a travel book.

10. Social Software

Social software like podcasts, videocasts, blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, and social networking tools, often referred to as Web 2.0, is changing the way people communicate both in social and business settings.

“It’s really been empowering people to interact in an electronic medium in a much richer fashion than we did with e-mail or corporate collaboration systems,” Cearley said.

The effectiveness of these tools for enterprise use varies, and some tools that have the potential to improve productivity aren’t yet mature enough for enterprise use, Gartner says. For example, wikis are highly valuable and mature enough for safe and effective enterprise use. Meanwhile, Gartner says prediction markets potentially have a lot of enterprise value but so far have low maturity. Podcasts, conversely, can be used safely and effectively but don’t have a lot of business value, the analyst firm said.

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