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Cloud, mobile apps remain major tech issues for Gartner Catalyst-goers

IT professionals gathered at Gartner Catalyst to bone up on bleeding-edge technology and apply what they learned to tech issues at home.

When Jordan Anderson traveled across town to the Gartner Catalyst conference in downtown San Diego, he knew he'd leave with more questions than answers. And that's OK.

"It's better to know what you don't know than to know what you know," said Anderson, systems architect at the University of San Diego (USD).

One thing he knew coming out of an educational session on Google Apps for Work: Free is good. Gartner analyst and presenter Guy Creese pointed out two features that are particularly attractive to universities: Students like Google's cloud-based productivity apps, such as Gmail and Google Calendar, and, as part of the Google for Education service, they cost nothing -- for students at least, Creese said.

At USD, students are on Gmail, but professors and administrators are on Exchange -- Microsoft's calendaring and email server. Anderson would love to get everyone using Google Apps for free.

"We're trying to figure out if we can do that with faculty and staff," he said. "Can we do that at no cost? That would be a big win for us."

Anderson was in his element at the conference, which is geared heavily toward IT architects. But wish-list items like Anderson's are also fairly accurate readings of the tech issues that CIOs and their organizations are grappling with today.

Kathryn A. Underhill, who manages IT research and development investments for Chevron Corp., based in San Ramon, Calif., was at Catalyst to dig deeper into using cloud computing. The oil company uses fiber-optic sensors to monitor temperatures in oil wells to determine where to drill. All that data needs handling and storing -- and that's not easily accomplished with traditional techniques.

"You don't drill next to data centers," said Underhill, who is eyeing the cloud as a possible strategy. "We have to get moving in order to manage all that data."

But Chevron, which Underhill describes as risk-averse -- "we're not out on the bleeding edge" -- isn't quite ready for a cloud deployment for something as sensitive as its fiber-optic sensor program. But it has started to deploy public and private cloud services, such as SharePoint Online and network drives.

"We're starting down the path," she said.

Another attendee looking for perspective on tech issues was Toni Miller, an IT director at the California State Legislature.

"Mobility is where it's at," said Miller, who manages internal government applications that users can access with their mobile devices. Her perennial challenge is finding ways to deliver, support and secure those apps. "There's no one single solution. You've got to look at it in multiple facets."

[Docker] has superpowers. It does a lot of the stuff you're already doing, but it does it faster and better.
Sean Kenefickanalyst at Gartner

One possible way to do that is by using Docker, an open source technology that packs up an app along with everything that makes it go, such as code and system tools, into a "container" running on a Linux server. It's designed so that it will operate uniformly in any computing environment, be it public or private cloud or on premises. The tool has been getting a lot of attention lately, and Gartner analyst Sean Kenefick, who gave a presentation on Docker at the conference, summed up its main selling points this way: "It has superpowers. It does a lot of the stuff you're already doing, but it does it faster and better."

But even Kenefick admits it won't resolve everyone's tech issues. The tool is still new, there are no agreed-upon standards for containers and setups can be costly. The drawbacks weren't lost on Miller, who attended the session.

"It might be something to look at for a testing environment, but it's too green now."

Let us know what you think of the story; email Jason Sparapani, features writer, or find him on Twitter @jmsparapani.

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