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Ten strategic technologies to watch in 2008

Gartner Inc. picks the technologies that are likely to have the biggest impact on your business in the next 18 to 36 months.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Protecting the environment has become part of IT's job. Managing your organization's metadata should be high on the IT agenda. But the Web -- and the new computing models it's spawned -- looms large on Gartner Inc.'s list of 10 strategic technologies for 2008.

You get the tracking information from FedEx, the map from Google, stick in on the same page with your data and now what the customer sees is a picture of a little plane with her order.
Carl Claunch
analystGartner Inc.
Strategic technologies, as defined by Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, are technologies that could disrupt IT or business in the next 18 to 36 months. They may require a large dollar investment and could cripple your organization if adopted too late. In other words, these technologies carry a high potential to shake up your job, big time. Here's what should be on your radar now, with comments from Gartner analyst Carl Claunch:

Green IT. Here to stay. Regulations are multiplying and could constrain plans to build new data centers. Learn about potential compliance regulations and form an alternate strategy for adding data centers. Don't get on the wrong side of the boss, shareholders or marketing.

Many companies, from Dell Inc. to Sole Technology Inc., a small Lake Forest, Calif.-based maker of skateboard footwear, are touting Green IT as a component of the company mission. Make no mistake, the software that schedules which applications should run where will and must factor in server energy efficiency. In the meantime: "When you are at a peak period and using everything, you have no choice. During the times when you are not totally maxed out, turn off the ones that are the worst energy hogs," Claunch said.

Unified communications. Twenty percent of companies that used to rely on private branch exchange (PBX) have migrated to IP telephony. But the times, they are a'changin'.

More than 80% of companies are doing trials of IP telephony. In three years, a majority of companies will be using it, Gartner predicts. And no wonder, when even things like video security cameras have become digital, Claunch said. This is the first major change in voice communications since the digital PBX and cellular phone changes in the 1970s and 1980s.

Business process modeling. The imperative for 2008 for this perennial list maker is to bring enterprise architects, senior developers, process architects and process analysts together to jointly define top-level process services. The modeling goal is faster and highly flexible processes. Think Legos. If the business decides it wants to change how it charges for products for two months, IT should be able to get into the process, change it and change it back when required, Claunch said.

Metadata management. A jargon-rich discipline (or lack of discipline, unfortunately) that nonetheless is a critical technology going forward. "If your aim is to have the ability to re-hook the IT systems to rapidly support any change your business might make, then you're talking about connections you don't know in advance," Claunch said. You need clean and consistent data to do that. "Metadata management is part of the magic sauce to that."

Virtualization 2.0. "This is a change in people's recognition of the scope of what virtualization can do," Claunch said. Virtualization is not just about shedding servers -- disaster recovery is a good example. Suddenly, putting in 10 backup machines for 10 production machines is a crude and expensive strategy.

Also just emerging, courtesy of virtualization: A new distribution model for applications. "Instead of selling and shipping just the application to you, the software supplier might send you a virtual machine file that has everything, the OS and the application, pre-integrated," Claunch said. So less work for you, and the vendor doesn't have to test all the combinations. Cautions? Licensing issues have to be sorted out before pre-integrated applications become widespread. And you'll have to run herd on vendors to make sure patches are updated.

Mashup and composite applications. Web mashups will be the dominant model (80%) for creating composite enterprise applications by 2010. Why? They allow you to rapidly tailor the functionality you want in one place, without having to re-create the original, Claunch said.

Mashups will replace internal portals for employees, who now have to flip between applications to get what they need. Businesses will use mashups to talk to customers about their orders. "You get the tracking information from FedEx, the map from Google, stick in on the same page with your data and now what the customer sees is a picture of a little plane with her order," Claunch said. And the licensing issues here? "Once you make a service that is available and open and doesn't require registration, I think it will be difficult to talk about terms and conditions that are hidden in a contract five screens down."

Web platform and Web-oriented architecture (WOA). Forget the acronym, Claunch said. The idea is this: Software as a Service (SaaS) is forcing companies to evaluate where service-based delivery will add value from 2008 to 2010. Meanwhile, emerging Web platforms are offering service-based access to infrastructure, information, applications and business processes through Web-based "cloud computing" environments. Now is the time to look beyond SaaS and examine how Web platforms will change their business in three to five years.

More IT for CIOs to watch
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Web 2.0: Just another technology?
Computing fabric. Five years ago, you bought a server. Inside there was one motherboard with a particular number of processors, some amount of memory and I/O connections. You got the mix the vendor built. You needed tons of memory and not much processor? Too bad. Blade servers helped. The next step in this progression, Gartner says, treats memory, processors and I/O cards as components in a pool, combining and recombining them into particular arrangements to suits the owner's needs. "You use the fabric to hook them anyway you want," Claunch said. "That's really a revolution."

For example, a large server can be created by combining 32 processors and a number of memory modules from the pool, operating together over the fabric to appear to an operating system as a single fixed server. The enabling technology is the switch that got fast enough to make it feasible. "It's things like InfiniBand" that make it possible, Claunch said.

Real World Web. The Real World Web delivers augmented reality as opposed to virtual reality, in real time, not before or after the fact. It gives tripping a whole new meaning. So, the GPS navigation unit, for example, gives real-time directions that react to events and movements. Now is the time to look for how to cash in on augmenting the world at the right time, place or situation.

Social software. The Web version of mob mentality, the collective conscious, "the wisdom of crowds" -- whatever you want to call it -- is coming to a workplace near you. Web 2.0 products such as wikis, RSS feeds and tagging will be used to communicate and foster collaboration in your company. Expect a shakeout as vendors big, small and just-born strive to deliver robust Web 2.0 offerings to business.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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