Top 3 Trends in IT and Big Data: A Look Back, The Year Ahead

Cloud computing, mobile applications, and big data coalesced in 2012 and will shape IT in 2013 and beyond.

By Guy Harrison

In 2012, we saw the convergence of three longer-term technology trends into a "perfect storm." Cloud computing, mobile applications, and big data coalesced in 2012, and this joining promises to shape the future of Information Technology in 2013 and beyond.

2012 Trend #1: Smartphones overtook PCs

Just as the PC still dominates, smartphone Internet traffic is not only growing faster, but, in emerging markets such as India, smartphone Internet already dominates.

Smartphones offer much more than Internet on the move, however. The mostly unexpected interactions between the technologies found in modern smartphones have allowed for unique applications that may never be replicated on the desktop.

Eventually, all PC capabilities will be found on smartphones. Voice recognition already has matured enough to replace the need for a keyboard, and, as high-speed mobile networks spread around the world, the cloud will offer the high-speed workflow currently found on a desktop PC.

2012 Trend #2: Cloud applications dominated

Cloud computing has been a buzzword since at least 2009. In 2012, however, virtually every major piece of consumer software, and almost all enterprise software -- from Microsoft Office to Oracle Fusion applications -- became cloud-enabled for the first time. There are many compelling advantages to cloud architecture, but the rapid migration to the cloud over the past few years has had as much to do with the acceleration of the smartphone and tablet as any other factor.

Although every consumer application needs a cloud back-end to provide a mobile user experience, enterprise application vendors likewise have felt pressure to provide a mobile and tablet experience that supports the vast population of executives and knowledge workers who increasingly rely on bring your own device (BYOD) tablets and cell phones to do their jobs.

2012 Trend #3: Big data and Hadoop soared

Although the phrase "big data" entered the lexicon in 2011, it fully penetrated enterprise thought in 2012.

Data volumes have been growing exponentially since the earliest days of commercial computing; but in the past decade, the nature of business data itself has undergone a revolution. Prior to the Internet, virtually all enterprise data was produced "by hand," with employees using online systems to, for example, enter orders or record customer details. Today, only a small fraction of a company's data assets are manually created by employees. Instead, the majority of data is either created by customers or generated as a by-product of business operations.

This "data exhaust" and social network noise would be of only minor interest if it weren't for the simultaneous, and not entirely coincidental, development of new techniques for extracting value from masses of raw data -- techniques such as machine learning and collective intelligence.

The increasingly popular Hadoop -- essentially an open source implementation of key Google big data techniques -- provided a model for economical storage and processing of these new data volumes. By the end of 2011, resistance to Hadoop essentially collapsed as Oracle and Microsoft followed IBM and fully embraced Hadoop as the key storage technology for raw big data sets. In 2012, Hadoop became the de-facto big data database.

What's Ahead in 2013

Mobile, cloud, and big data technologies are going to continue to power innovation in consumer and enterprise computing. We can see a couple of key challenges and opportunities ahead.

2013 Trend #1: Analytics will become the focus of big data

The initial focus for an enterprise big data initiative is naturally data capture and the development of an infrastructure to economically store the data. Without Hadoop, the cost of reliably storing and processing petabytes of data would be prohibitive. Hadoop itself only solves half of the big data equation, however. Data does not spontaneously turn into business insights, no matter how much you collect.

Enterprises are looking to big data to power the sort of game-changing advances shown by Google and Amazon, but these big data pioneers largely built up revolutionary algorithms by hiring some of the world's smartest minds and providing them with virtually limitless computing resources: "Ph.D.s driving tanks" is the way one Google luminary put it.

Not everyone can afford to hire these super geeks and even if they could, there are not enough to go around. A new job title -- "data scientist" -- has been created to describe the individuals who will create the big data solutions. However, creating the job title does not instantly create a qualified pool of data scientists. It will be many years until new academic syllabuses result in a supply of young, trained data scientists, and meanwhile a "Hadoop hangover" might result if IT can't deliver their promised insights from the expensive Hadoop-based big data initiative.

For Hadoop big data projects to succeed, the role of the data scientist must be replaced by big data analytics software that brings data science within the reach of mere mortals. These software solutions should combine analytics that can "learn" from experience (machine learning), leverage the wisdom of the crowds (collective intelligence), and extrapolate from existing data into future events (predictive analytics).

Expect to see a battle for big data analytics software solutions in 2013.

2013 Trend #2: Google Glass and wearable computing will unleash new possibilities

By providing usable voice recognition through Siri, Apple showed a glimpse of a world in which the mobile device might interact in a more useful manner. In 2013, we may see the next quantum leap when Google produces the first version of Google Glass, which may be the first widely adopted "heads-up display" for everyday life. Combining a camera, speaker, microphone, and mini-display that attaches to existing or specially provided eyeglasses, Google glass will allow your cell phone -- now truly the hub of a personal area computer network -- to display directions and annotations on your visual field and receive and process verbal commands.

Going even further into a science fiction future, systems are in the works that feature gesture-based control -- which will allow you to point and click in thin air -- and even brainwave detection. Although full thought control remains difficult without a cumbersome MRI helmet, simple commands and emotional states can be read by using only a few head mounted sensors that conceivably can be incorporated into the Google Glass headset.

It's by no means clear that these fantastical devices will take off, but my guess is that the modern consumer is conditioned to seek richer interaction from their little pocket friend. We'll see enthusiastic early adoption of these amazing devices next year.

2013 Trend #3: Enterprises will need more powerful infrastructure

The final item for 2013 perhaps reflects more of a hope than a direct prediction.

This brave new world is going to succeed or fail on the existence of a reliable and affordable mobile Internet infrastructure. Today, that infrastructure is unevenly distributed, both globally and within the U.S. In the U.S., Google is wiring up some communities with state-of-the-art services (Kansas, for example). In some other countries, governments are driving expensive national broadband infrastructure projects, but we're still all too aware of poor connectivity locations, ironically, including some areas in Silicon Valley. To have the bandwidth to capture and analyze the ever-growing volume of real-time social data, consistent broadband and networking are going to be a must everywhere.

Science-fiction writer William Gibson famously said, "The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed." Without a serious commitment to a consistent broadband network, the digital future may remain forever unevenly distributed.

Guy Harrison is an executive director of research and development at Dell and an author of several books on Database technologies. Guy is the originator of a range of Dell solutions for Oracle and other relational databases as well as for NoSQL and Hadoop. He currently oversees the research and development of Dell's database and business intelligence solutions including the Toad product family and big data software solutions. Guy can be reached at guy_harrison@dell.com, http://www.guyharrison.net, or @guyharrison on Twitter.
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