The year ahead: Juggling IT risks, opportunities

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Enterprises also will consider buying NAC software and appliances from the likes of McAfee and Symantec, whose dominance in client-protection software provides a foundation for determining the security posture of endpoints.

WAN assistance

Another hot technology in 2007 will be optimization and application acceleration. This year the key players are all about equal rights for users.

Emerging software-based tools will enable mobile and teleworkers to get all the benefits of acceleration appliances that users in headquarters and branch offices do. The technology, dubbed soft WAN optimization controllers by research firm Gartner, must be intelligent enough to handle mobile users that may be accessing the network from various locations.

"This technology needs the same sort of functions that are in branch appliances, but it needs to run in a Windows environment, so the programming model is very different," says Joe Skorupa, research vice president covering networking and communications equipment at Gartner. "It also has to be smart enough to know when people are in the office or plugged in from a remote location without an appliance nearby."

Application-acceleration technology, WAN optimization's data center cousin, will experience some fine-tuning of another sort in 2007. Application-acceleration tools reside in the data center and boost user performance of browser-based applications by offering several technologies, such as TCP optimization, that work at the network and applications layers.

According to industry watchers, 2007 will be a year in which the network becomes much more application-fluent. Because use-case scenarios for poorly performing applications vary among enterprise IT shops, vendors in 2007 will start making it clear which applications their technologies address, Yankee Group's Kerravala says. "Vendors in this market have to get better about articulating the value of their product to specific applications," he says.

Virtual apps and machines

Just as employees are becoming more distributed, so too are IT environments. Two separate trends on the application side of the house are adding to the complexity.

The first is the growing acceptance of software delivered over the Internet. Once a consideration for small enterprises with limited IT budgets, more large enterprises with complex application environments are buying into the idea of software-as-a-service. Gartner predicts 25% of new business software will be delivered as software-as-a-service by 2011, up from 5% in 2005.

Meanwhile, IT departments are orchestrating an architectural overhaul in-house that's changing the way applications are designed and deployed. The rush to service-oriented architecture () will accelerate in 2007 as enterprises move from piloting Web services and other services-based components to production mode. Gartner predicts SOA will be used in part in more than 50% of new, mission-critical applications and business processes designed in 2007, and in more than 80% by 2010.

To help get a handle on increasingly distributed resources, industry watchers expect to see network and system-management market vendors tailor their wares to tackle virtual machines, maintain hardware and software configurations, and streamline automated workflows.

For instance, the rise in virtual machines will emphasize the need to manage the various platforms -- Xen, VMware, Microsoft and others -- across distributed networks. IDC predicts that 72% of all servers will be virtual by 2013, and Stephen Elliot, a senior analyst with the research firm, says that has management vendors scrambling to ship in 2007 products with virtual management capabilities.

"As Microsoft gets more product out and as the virtual realm becomes more heterogeneous, management of virtual infrastructure is going to get much, much hotter in 2007," Elliot says.

Vendors that can automate the creation, distribution and management of virtual resources, which will converge with SOA's loosely coupled elements, will come ahead of the pack, says George Hamilton, director of Yankee Group's Enabling Technologies Enterprise group. "And along with that comes more automation and configuration technologies, especially in the area of IP telephony."

Enterprise IT managers will need in 2007 an integrated system that can tap configurations across software and hardware IT assets, adds Dennis Drogseth, a vice president with research firm Enterprise Management Associates.

"IT managers need a policy-based means to access all this configuration information to enable higher-level management of performance across network, server and applications," Drogseth says. "The number one question asked when diagnosing a performance issue among enterprise IT managers is, 'What changed?' and with quick access to that data, IT manages can fix problems more quickly."

With solid configuration data, network managers can put in place technologies that would enable day-to-day tasks to be completed by software rather than manually by IT staff. While automation is hardly new, the move toward automating day-to-day tasks is also coupled with adoption of process-based management, says Jean-Pierre Garbani, a vice president with Forrester Research.

"In management, customers are thinking a lot about process and less about technology. They want the technology to help enable their processes," Garbani explains. "Process automation will be big in 2007, and it's new in the sense that data will be exchanged by integrated systems rather than one person passing it on, and more sophisticated tasks will be launched by software."

Last, in 2007, network managers are expected to at least consider open source management applications. While open source options won't have an immediate impact on vendors such as BMC, CA, HP and IBM, they might inspire these bigger players to add more interoperability and open formats to their proprietary software platforms, industry watchers speculate.

"There is a lot of investment happening around open source management, and while it's still on the low end, people like the price point and the flexibility open source management offers," says IDC's Elliot.

Open source smackdown in 2007

Help from outside

As IT departments work to provide better services to users, many won't go at it alone.

Greater numbers will turn to managed service providers, industry watchers say. In particular, remote management and monitoring, hosted VoIP, and IP audio and videoconferencing services will catch on.

"Eighty percent of enterprise customers have expressed interest in remote monitoring services," says David Willis, a research vice president at Gartner. Customers want a service provider to monitor their network and detect sources of failure while still being in control of the assets on-site.

Likewise, more users in 2007 are expected to adopt hosted VoIP services, says Lisa Pierce, a vice president at Forrester Research. Although hosted VoIP services are a small part of the overall managed services market today, Pierce says capital restraints will drive more users to this alternative, which takes the worry of keeping up with new code and patches out of the customer's hands and puts it in the carrier's hands.

"The happiest customers I've ever met are customers that are using hosted VoIP services," Pierce says. "Some companies just don't have the resources to do VoIP in-house. The gear is different ages and from different vendors, and they can't afford the capital expense to change all of it out. By going with hosted VoIP, users can dodge a bullet."

More customers also are expected to buy managed IP audio conferencing and IP videoconferencing services rather than try to support these applications internally, says John Burke, a principal researcher at Nemertes Research. "Based on preliminary research results, real-time collaboration will drive the needs for these services," he says.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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