Enterprise IT: A Look Back, The Trends Ahead

Fasten your seatbelts -- it's going to be a bumpy year.

If Theodor Geisel—a.k.a. Dr. Seuss—were still alive, he'd probably wax somewhat tongue-in-cheek over the year just past: oh the places we've gone! Indeed. He might also order up a bourbon—neat—and instruct the bartender, on further thought, to make it a double. It's been that kind of year.

With economic uncertainty in the offing, concern about global warming, and an election year on tap, 2008 is shaping up to be a rollicking affair.

Consolidation Craze

This year, like those before it, was a year of consolidation. From 2003 through 2005 it was the ERP segment that shrank, thanks largely to the efforts of Oracle Corp. and (to a much lesser degree) SAP AG. This year, it was the business intelligence (BI) and performance management (PM) sector's turn.

But while ERP industry consolidation took more than two years to shake out, the BI industry consolidated in just under ten months. Between February and December of 2007, all three independent, publicly-traded BI and PM market leaders—namely, Hyperion Solutions Corp., Business Objects SA, and Cognos Inc.—fell, like so many dominoes, to Oracle, SAP, and IBM Corp., respectively. As a result, all three vendors more or less became—overnight—best-of-breed BI and PM powerhouses.

It was a foregone conclusion, industry experts say. "I think the BI vendors have seen for a long time that the ERP vendors and the big database vendors were going to come into this space, so they wanted to bulk up [by acquiring smaller vendors] to prepare themselves," says Wayne Eckerson, director of TDWI Research. "Ultimately, once one of them went and had a partner with big, deep pockets, they all had to go—so it's kind of a domino effect."

Green's the Thing

Consolidation is a given. It's a mainstay, even, of year-in-review recaps. Green IT, on the other hand, is sui generis.

To be sure, last year's Trends to Watch recap suggested that Green IT might have an impact of some kind in 2007 (, but few could have anticipated just how substantive its impact would actually be.

Consider IBM's green IT push—Project Big Green—which began earlier this year with a $1 billion initial investment. Since then, Big Blue announced an ambitious distributed-systems-to-mainframe push—premised, in part, on the more cost-effective power and cooling qualities of its System z mainframes—and also came out with a new "mainframe gas gauge" feature for System z.

Computing heavyweights Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have been just as eco-eager as IBM. HP, for example, has introduced a range of "green" data center offerings—including its "Dynamic Smart Cooling" technology—that promise to reduce data center power and cooling requirements. Sun's strategy is even more diverse, from its ultra-efficient Niagara chip designs to its data-center-in-a-box offering, Project Black Box (which, even though it was announced in late-2006, hit the ground running this year). Add it all up, experts say, and you have a pronounced trend—a groundswell of support, even—in favor of Green IT.

"Enhancing energy efficiency is a subject dear to the hearts of IT vendors and customers alike," says industry veteran Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT. Until 2007, however, most vendors took only tentative steps toward Greening, he notes. When IBM put down $1 billion to fund Project Big Green, that changed drastically.

"[Greening] is best served by methodically pursuing and realizing incremental improvements across a range of areas and processes. In such scenarios, point products like low power processors and eco-friendly servers have their places, but they are merely players in what must be a much larger team effort if it is to succeed," he says. "This is why IBM's Project Big Green is likely to take root in the marketplace."

Big Iron Brouhaha

Speaking of the mainframe, IBM's System z division turned in still another encouraging performance in 2007. With a number of new initiatives percolating—including, significantly, the promise of additional specialty engines—Big Iron is poised for another successful year.

There are a host of reasons for this trend, IBM officials say, but three in particular—information security, information management, and virtualization—play specifically to System z's strengths.

"We're just seeing tremendous interest [in System z]," said Mary Moore, System z security initiative leader with IBM, in an interview we conducted in the fall. "A lot of it has to do with concern about security, about managing, locking down these exploding data volumes. Customers are turning to a platform [System z] that they've trusted for decades." Moore and other IBM officials also cite Big Blue's zSeries Integrated Information Processor (zIIP), which gives customers a cost-effective way to run DB2 workloads (and consolidate other information processing workloads) on their System z mainframes. In the coming year, Moore and other IBM officials anticipate even stronger mainframe growth.

"We just don't see any of these [drivers] becoming less critical," Moore said. "These issues are getting more and more complex, and the enhancements we're delivering"—she was speaking specifically about security—"help customers address encryption, address policy management, [and] address information security. No other platform is as well suited for this as the mainframe."

Virtualization A Go Go

Virtualization seemed to come on like a thoroughbred in 2007, didn't it?

It was always simmering, of course: technology visionaries have talked up virtualization as a soon-and-inevitable Next Big Thing for years, but 2007 was the year in which virtualization went supernova.

Expect more of the same in 2008. In fact, says John Webster, an analyst with consultancy Illuminata, virtualization aficionados are already talking up a so-called Data Center OS—i.e., one hypervisor, with bundled services and other operating system-like amenities, which rules them all.

"Is there a Data Center OS in your future? VMware's Diane Green sees the Data Center OS coming. I was a bit stunned by that question because earlier in her presentation she'd emphatically denied that VMware was an operating system," Webster wrote back in October. "And if VMware sees Data Center OS on its road map to the future, then OS is what VMware will surely become. Just as surely though, it will be an OS unlike any we've seen before."

Even as VMWare tries to position itself as a go-to Data Center OS, a bevy of hardware vendors—including networking powerhouse Cisco Systems Inc.—are jockeying to fill still another position. "Cisco CEO John Chambers [recently] preached the virtues of Data Center Fabric on the horizon. What's that? Recall those early depictions of Ethernet as a cloud. Now imagine a data center cloud populated by servers, storage, and Cisco's 'intelligent' networking gear, all managed by Cisco and its partners --starting with VMware," Webster explains.

"VMware is without doubt in my mind the hottest IT property on the planet right now, and this event is really about virtualization in all of its incarnations—server, network, and storage. Teamed with Cisco's VFrame 'platform,' VMware could become the first data center OS, but not before some doors are opened—starting with the door to the operations manager's office."

eDiscovery: Another Looming Compliance Nightmare?

IT has been historically hard-pressed to keep pace with the requirements of regulatory and law enforcement agencies.

Things got dicier in 2006, when the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) were revised for the first time in six years, placing a significant emphasis on accelerated eDiscovery procedures. The upshot, experts say, was a surge in the number of eDiscovery fines and infractions in 2007, the first full year for which the revised FRCP regulations were in effect. Thus far, says unstructured information management specialist Autonomy, more than 40 FRCP infractions have been recorded (and millions of dollars in fines levied).

Compare that with just two infractions for Sarbanes-Oxley in its five years of existence and you've got a looming regulatory nightmare for IT.

"The … Federal Rules of Civil Procedure … mandates that any company, or multinational doing business in the U.S. or government agency must ensure [that] all discoverable electronically stored information … associated with litigation is preserved, protected, and produced within the compliance period or else risk costly regulatory fines or jail time," explains Nicole Eagan, chief marketing officer with Autonomy. "As volumes of electronically structured information … continue to grow, so, too, will the requirements that it be proactively managed well in advance of litigation," she continues.

Autonomy (and its Verity information management subsidiary, of which Eagan is a principal) has a dog in the race, of course: it’s pushing a single platform that helps index, catalog, and search unstructured information, largely as a means to "proactively" address eDiscovery requirements. There's no denying that eDiscovery is a serious issue—with attendant serious "teeth" (legally speaking)—that's likely to become a greater problem for companies.

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