You could almost call it an omnipresence of data. In the future, employees will continue to collaborate on spreadsheets, presentations, blueprints, and other projects over the Internet. What colleagues prepare in Europe can be completed elsewhere in the world; that’s the sign of a global company. Smartphones and portable computers enable users to access finished documents and data, such as when working on-location with customers. Orders and change requests immediately enter a centralized database, which may be located in a cloud. Ideas that were the stuff of pure fiction just a few years ago are gradually finding their way into the everyday business world.
It is already becoming clear that the Internet will shift more and more to mobile devices, leaving fixed desktop computers with less of a role to play. The statistics ascertained by the market researchers at Gartner bear out this trend: Smartphones already account for 14% of the entire mobile telephone sector, and this number is set to grow to 38% by the year 2013. Users are accessing the Internet less and less through portals alone, turning instead to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter – a development of particular interest to companies.
Just in time for the start of the new year, market researchers and consulting companies like Euromonitor, iSupply, IDC, MDR Instat, and the aforementioned Gartner have published their forecasts for 2010. Join us in venturing a look at the five trends we consider key in business IT.
- Trend 1: enterprise cloud computing
- Trend 2: mobile software apps
- Trend 3: graphical data analysis
- Trend 4: energy-efficient data centers
- Trend 5: smart energy grids
Trend 1: enterprise cloud computing
Let’s start with the most important trend of all: enterprise cloud computing and virtualization, both recipes for modern business IT. Here, the virtualization a number of companies have already implemented serves as a type of bridge to cloud computing. In practical terms, virtualization means storing workstation PCs as virtual computers on a server in the cloud, aiming mainly to concentrate hardware resources and optimize their use.
There are now just under 1,000 Internet providers in the world offering internal and external cloud computing services to companies. In an internal cloud, virtual machines run from a data center, and users access them over a network from simple client PCs. The data center is tasked with ensuring that sufficient hardware resources are available by adjusting capacity as needed.
An external cloud, meanwhile, involves a series of servers that form a virtual data center and its processing power. Sometimes housed in separate locations, these servers are linked over the Internet. For more on the providers leasing out external clouds, see our article “Greetings from Fort Knox”.
It remains to be seen whether companies will upload their valuable data into a cloud, leaving it stored in diffuse, undefined corners of the Internet. Questions concerning data security and data protection laws outside of the European Union and United States are also still unanswered. Our article “Getting Granular on Cloud Computing” has more on this topic.
Trend 2: mobile software apps
In 2009, smartphones made up nearly 14% of the entire mobile telephone segment. If the market researchers at Gartner are to be believed, this number is to jump to 38% by 2013, meaning that every third cellular phone will be able to provide adequate Internet connectivity.
Meanwhile, users now have the option of displaying complex content – including graphical charts, processes and related animations, and Microsoft Office applications – on smartphones with higher-resolution screens. You may also be interested in our article “SAP TechEd: Data Analysis on the iPhone”.
Whether this made possible by custom Web presentations or small software apps depends on both the type of device and the application in question. At least in the case of Apple’s alpha gadget iPhone, the number of such apps on offer is virtually endless. Other providers such as Google, RIM, Samsung, and Sony are already following suit.
In terms of quality and quantity, the iPhone and Apple’s App Store have so far delivered the most on software distributions. The drawback, however, is that these programs are not available for other smartphones. Dyed-in-the-wool Blackberry users – hardly a rarity in today’s business world – are more than familiar with this dilemma.
If market researchers have their way, software apps will soon run on both mobile smartphones and stationary desktop computers. This would entail a strategic reorientation of companies’ software platforms.
Trend 3: graphical data analysis
It’s a situation familiar to many companies: A business process accumulates ever increasing amounts of data, which is archived in databases. This makes it harder and harder for employees to maintain an overview in a particular context; see our related article, “Hidden Treasures: Turning Data into Graphics”.
Also high in demand are analytical tools and corresponding configurable models meant to increase the relevance of data for decision-making. Selecting a data record, users can display various graphical presentations and alternative results and scenarios. Unlike conventional analysis models based exclusively on CRM and ERP data, these tools should – assuming correct interpretation – even offer a glimpse of the future. Be sure to check out our corresponding article on optimizing datasets.
Trend 4: energy-efficient data centers
The rise in energy prices and the economic downturn were only the latest events to portend the end of a time when data centers were planned for expansive facilities and timeframes of up to 15 years. Today, the primary goal is green data centers that provide maximum computing power while taking up minimal space. The servers themselves account for only around half of such facilities’ energy consumption, with the rest going to ensure climate control, an uninterrupted power supply, and the required infrastructure. The article “1 Watt Performance, 0.3 Watt Cooling” has more on this subject.
Obtaining and visualizing a detailed report on a data center’s temperature distribution offers a number of advantages, including the ability to identify thermal hot spots and eliminate them using special methods. To prevent unnecessarily low and dangerously high conditions, administrators can optimize temperature distribution by regulating the rate of air flow, for example. This also reduces both costs and downtime.
Meanwhile, the focus in the field of server hardware will shift to microservers, whose increased processor integration improves performance yield per surface area and watts consumed. In addition, optimized load management enables modern multicore processors to expend virtually no electricity when load is at zero. Data centers should leverage these advantages in merging their IT and energy management.
Trend 5: smart energy grids
While energy grids based on centralized power generation at power plants and pump storage stations still dominate globally, the field is gravitating toward decentralized energy production facilities. These facilities require a much more complex load management structure to maintain grid stability; for more, take a look at the article “SAP UC 2009: Electricity Meters 2.0”.
Starting right from construction, considerations must be made to ensure that buildings consume as little energy as possible in their subsequent operations. Office complexes continue to feature primarily giant glass facades, which require considerable heating in winter and plenty of air conditioning in summer. A more sensible approach calls for the large-scale installation of photovoltaic modules that feed the energy they collect into the local energy grid. When implemented in a comprehensive manner, this helps avoid peak loads on the grid. Smart energy grids rely on local energy generation and full regulation by means of IT. As a result, less power is lost during energy transfers. Our article “Saving Energy with an iPhone” has more.
The image above displays an example scenario in a private environment: Solar cells installed on house roofs feed electricity as needed into a smart energy grid, and the residents receive compensation. At the same time, this energy can be stored in batteries for later household use or to recharge electric cars. The article “eCarTec 2009: Electric Cars” offers an interesting related read.
While energy grids based on centralized power generation at power plants and pump storage stations still dominate globally, the field is gravitating toward decentralized energy production facilities. These facilities require a much more complex load management structure to maintain grid stability; for more, take a look at the article “