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Triumphs and Travails of 2007

By Lawrence Walsh Print this article Print

Technology can fuel business or tear it apart. Baseline recounts the best and worst of the year's tech implementations and innovations.

It's been a busy year in and out of the data center. Over these past 12 months, Baseline has explored the triumphs and travails of the technology world, the companies that use technology to their advantage, the challenges faced by enterprises and their IT practitioners, and, of course, the downfalls of those who missed the digital mark.

To mark the completion of another trip around the sun, Baseline recounts the best and worst of 2007 through the eyes of our intrepid staff.

The Upside ...

Through November, crude oil prices flirted with the dreaded $100-per-barrel milestone, fueled by ever increasing global demand. The skyrocketing cost of electricity to power and cool energy-hungry servers got many enterprises rethinking their data center and computing strategies.

As Baseline reports this month (see CIO Power Report, p.54), agro-chemical giant Monsanto put power conservation front and center when it decided to build a new 20,000-square-foot data center at its St. Louis headquarters. The use of virtualization technology and innovative building design cut power consumption by 20 percent and reduced the company's need to add more hardware to meet its insatiable computing demands.

Energy conservation and cost reduction was a huge driver behind the VMWare IPO, which raised more than $1 billion on the company's Wall Street debut. Traders' demand for this new stock shows the confidence investors have in the technology-a reflection of enterprises' growing demand.

Technology vendors lead the way toward improving the environmental impact of data centers and computing devices. This year saw the establishment of the Green Grid, a consortium of vendors including AMD, APC, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and VMware, collaborating to make data centers more efficient. IBM's Think Green initiative and the Schneider Electric Technology Center are also searching for ways to minimize IT environmental impact. IT managers are realizing the benefits of going green, in terms of both cost savings and corporate responsibility, and this year saw action on their part to buy more energy-efficient equipment.

Pacific Gas and Electric expanded its effort to encourage energy conservation by offering rebates and cost-saving incentives to companies that deployed energy-saving virtualization software or upgraded to power-efficient servers.

But power isn't just about oil and electricity. Google continued to flex its market and technology muscle, and is now one of the five most valuable U.S. companies with a market cap greater than $217 billion. For those keeping score, that's more than IBM or Hewlett-Packard, and just $100 billion shy of Microsoft. Not bad for a 10-year-old company.

Google threatened old-guard technology companies in 2007 with a series of moves that may make it the most powerful IT company ever. Last spring, it unveiled Google Gears, a project designed to make its free Web-based applications work offline (hello, Microsoft Office). It made significant security acquisitions-Green Border (Web browser security) and Postini (e-mail security services)-wake up Symantec and McAfee. And this fall it announced efforts to expand apps and targeted marketing to cell phones and mobile devices (knock-knock, telecom). If that wasn't bad enough, Google is also the lead contender for the old UHF spectrum, which could give it the ability to launch a nationwide Wi-Fi phone network.

Google continues to surprise and outpace the technology stalwarts, but its rivals aren't taking the threat lightly. Microsoft did beat Google for a share of Facebook, which is rapidly becoming the social network of choice. And Yahoo, as Baseline reported in November, is rapidly developing new technologies, tools and marketing models to compete against the search giant.

Despite Google's dominance, hats off to the plethora of innovative search engines that are winning in their niches. GlobalSpec, a search site devoted to engineers, has carved out a loyal following of 3.6 million registered users. Lesson: Focus on what you're good at, serve your market well and you will succeed.

Google painting a target on the wireless world may threaten the traditional telecos, but everyone is playing catch-up with Apple and its iPhone. The debut of the iPod on steroids that can phone home as well as play the latest Fallout Boy single proved once again that Apple's strategy for focusing on the user experience and ease of use wins the day. Even better for Steve Jobs & Co. is the iPhone's sale drag; Apple's share of the PC and notebook market continues to climb.

Even as HP jockeyed ahead of Dell for the lead in notebook and PC sales, IBM debunked the myths that mainframes are dead. Big Blue released two new mainframes this year, which provided a healthy 10 percent boost to its topline revenue. IBM has been teaming with businesses to help them not only use mainframes for conventional purposes, but to innovate with them. One shining example of this is Hoplon Infotainment, a Brazilian video gaming company that uses mainframes instead of servers to run its online gaming applications. Just like mainframes, social networking and virtual worlds also seem to be here to stay. As Baseline reported in March, Second Life has made an indelible mark on the concept of 3D virtual worlds as a means for commerce and business as much as for connecting enthusiasts for everything from Star Trek and badminton to astrophysics and mythology.

Some may dismiss Second Life and similar "worlds" as passing flights of fancy for graduates of Worlds of Warcraft, but the concept of the 3D Internet is making steady progress. Progressive Insurance has trained more than 4,000 claims adjusters in a virtual environment provided by Proton Media. Second Life, leader of the virtual universe, has attracted major companies such as American Apparel, AMD, Cisco Systems, Dell, Sun Microsystems and Toyota. Where is all this going? If IBM, Sun and Cisco have their way, the walls between Second Life and its peers will come down and create a vast 3D version of the Internet in the next five to seven years.

Virtual worlds are just one of many examples of social network platforms, of which the more mainstream models showed no signs of slowing down this year. Facebook and MySpace announced plans to expand their advertising engines, sparking the next wave of targeted Web advertising. Even public CRM apps LinkedIn and Plaxo showed signs of expanding beyond their origins as Web-based Rolodexes. Is social networking truly ready for business? If it isn't, it will be soon. Some say content is dead and the world is all about connectivity. If that's the case, social networking may soon evolve from a connection tool to the actual platform for conducting business. Next Page: Triumphs and Travails of 2007: The Downside

This article was originally published on 2007-11-30
Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.
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