JP’s Topsy-Turvy 2009 IT Year in Review

By | December 10, 2009

This time of year is a great time to reflect upon the last 12 months and see what has occurred as well as discuss the impact of the events on this year and next.

The Big News

The big news in IT this year has to be Cloud Computing. Like the result of a Gremlin fed after midnight, Cloud Computing turned into the Stripe of the IT world. As pundits and vendors raced to gain mindshare as a means of priming the economy-dulled sales pipeline, IT buyers were caught trying to figure out, “is this the next great frontier, or am I going to look like an ass for recommending yet another useless acquisition?” Interestingly, cost is not the major driver behind these offerings, but instead access to compute resources on demand that don’t require up-front capital expenditure. Now, they only have to figure out how to actually make it so their applications can work in the Enterprise, but shift to the Cloud for additional resources when needed. This should lead to some interesting Fail Blog stories next year since most companies barely have the right mix of resources to keep the lights on let alone actually architect (Webster actually lists this as a verb now, so if jiggy is a valid word in the dictionary, I guess I have to accept architect as a verb now) a distributed application capable of crossing compute boundaries. I will be watching a number of fronts, such as application virtualization and Open Virtualization Format (OVF) to see if these do anything to help with this issue.

iPhones were a big IT story this year. No, not the fact that businesses started using them as a platform, but that so many individuals actually opt to use their own iPhone paid for with their own dollars and often no reimbursement for their service plan instead of a nice corporate provided Blackberry. What’s next, people paying for their own health plans?

Of course, we can’t talk about big IT news without discussing the impact of social networking. It seems a day doesn’t go by that I get an invite to join a new network site or share data about where I am or where I’m travelling. The election of 2008 illustrated how digitally connected we all are as multiple candidates leveraged social networking to connect with voters and disseminate their ideas. In 2009, we began to see that impact start to seriously hit at the doorstep of IT. Gone are the days where Facebook and Twitter are blocked by the firewall, it’s now a requirement for businesses to extend their brand to these platforms. Employees are encouraged to Tweet and extend their networks via LinkedIn and collaboration has gone from buzzword to system requirement. I can’t read Arabic, but I think Al-qaeda even has a fan page now on Facebook (yes, that is facetious). The point being that social networking has changed the way we think about communicating and doing business, however, we need to educate users of these applications of the potential risks. These applications are ripe grounds for delivery of malware and phishing attacks; even if you don’t do anything other than update your profile and don’t limit who has access to view. Think about what’s in your Facebook profile: birthdate, pet’s name, spouse’s name, link to spouse, etc. I’m sure everyone reading this has used some aspect of this information as the means to access another computer system; and this is only one example of thousands. So, when social networking, remember, protection!

Finally, business intelligence has re-appeared on the scene. BI has been on and off the radar screens of business multiple times over the past twenty years. Perhaps it was the lack of technology to really deliver useful intelligence from the globs of growing and poorly-manicured data or the fact that when things go south business leaders look to the great Oracle (pun intended) to tell them how to run their business. Either way, BI is back in style along with men showing chest hair and platform shoes. It’s like the 70’s on acid. Unfortunately, I have some interesting news, unless you actually spend the millions necessary to get your data house in order, all the BI tools in the world are not going to provide you with an accurate picture of how your business is trending. Besides, you only need to look in your bank account to determine that. I do believe BI has some interesting applications when partnered with Complex Event Processing engines as a way to tell you that all hell has broken loose or is about to anyway.

The Ongoing Battles

Another year has passed and over that year the same 15-20 people have come out and debated the relative goodness/badness of SOA and BPM. Meanwhile, all the people actually developing solutions totally ignored what we had to say and many of them laughed heartily at us as they ran past us – straight into that brick wall. Hello? McFly??? Anyone in there??? We’re not here debating among ourselves for the sheer joy of it (although, it is really fun to watch @aleksb6 get his knickers in twist as @bmichelson pushes his buttons). We’re debating these issues because we realize there’s hundreds of millions of dollars at stake for businesses who are laboring to keep their users satisfied and don’t have the ability to fully understand all the nuances of developing large-scale distributed applications in a virtualized universe. So, why does some junior architect with three weeks of training from IBM or Zapthink believe they are capable of taking on a task that industry veterans cannot agree on a common approach for and be successful?

SOA is undefined, but it’s not a technology and is not a platform for developing applications, yet you’d better figure a way to get it on your resume if you want a job in IT in the 21st century. BPM is a methodology and a science, but it is not a toolkit or application. Both of these initiatives require experienced IT veterans with an understanding of enterprise capabilities, mission-critical deployment, all the –ilities (high availability, scalability, reliability, transactionality, etc.) and a comprehensive understanding of the business in order to properly align technology choices and directions for a successful outcome. This is a big picture thinker with the ability to drive that picture back down into attainable goals. We call them Enterprise Architects, you call them …. only when you’re already in trouble!

The Emerging Disruptors

And, now, the fun part of our little journey through IT-land, a look at what’s going to be hot or bite you in the butt next year!

Numero uno on the list of emerging disruptors has to be cybersecurity. A quick search into salaries for IT security personnel quickly tells the story of the state of affairs for this major league IT pain-in-the-rear-end. Most of you reading this probably already have a bot or malware running on a computer in your organization. These insidious beasts are being produced at a rate far faster than the software to recognize and eliminate them. Some of these are harmless, but some can be exposing critical flaws in your infrastructure that can be exploited by an individual with the appropriate skills facilitating access to your most confidential and private data. And, yet, the industry salaries for individuals with the capability to protect your networks and systems is below that of many other roles, such as Database Administrator (DBA), programmer, architect, virtualization engineer, storage engineer, etc. Obviously, protecting your information assets must be of minimal concern to you or you would be out seeking the skills of individuals or businesses that can provide you, minimally, with the knowledge that you have data leakage and, best case, close the holes and eliminate the problem.

It looks like Healthcare IT is shaping up to be a major land grab for software and hardware vendors next year. It seems that rising health costs and the government’s emphasis on lowering costs via electronic health records has moved the IT target to this vertical. I have seen a number of major software vendors establishing Healthcare IT groups within their sales and marketing organizations in an effort to ramp up for what is deemed to be the next great sales frontier. Well I hope this report doesn’t put a damper on those visions of grandeur. The report concludes that “health information technology has a modest impact on process measures of quality, but no impact on administrative efficiency or overall costs.”

Here’s one that my sources say to keep an eye on, IPv6. IPv6 is the next generation Internet Protocol. Many service providers will be switching to this standard soon because it provides them much more control over the number of Internet devices they can directly address and fixes many of the issues of IPv4. However, many of the IPv6 protocol stacks are new and have not been tested under full stress of a production environment. If you remember, it took Microsoft something like ten years to get their IP stack to a point where it was robust and mature. The IP stack is at the heart of every device that connects to the Internet. Changing this protocol is going to be slow and painful, but not changing soon is going to cause major disruptions in service as service providers are forced to use IPv6->IPv4 conversion, which at gigabit speeds is tedious and adds latency, not to mention that it will add overhead to the router for maintenance of multiple tables and increases memory consumption.

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