Running a business and overseeing IT is a tough task in the best of times. But in today’s environment—with consumer and business spending shrinking, budgets declining, the stock market sinking, and the pressure to adopt new tools and technologies growing—many organizations are finding themselves stretched to the limit.
As 2009 unfolds, it’s clear that enterprises with a forward-thinking approach and a solid grasp of technology trends will have a distinct competitive advantage. The following technologies are likely to shape IT and business organizations in the coming year, and they can give your company the tools it needs to do business in this challenging economic environment.
1. Software as a Service (SaaS)
A few years ago, the idea of running software remotely seemed preposterous. Bandwidth limitations, performance obstacles and IT administration issues made hosted software impractical. But times change. Today, software as a service (SaaS) is growing at an annual rate exceeding 40 percent. In fact, it is expected to command a 23 percent share of the $120 billion U.S. software market by 2010, according to RBC Capital Markets.
Rob DeSisto, vice president and distinguished analyst for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, says organizations increasingly see the benefits of moving large-scale software expenses from their capital budget to their operating budget.
Tom Kelly, CFO and CIO at Second Wind Exercise, a $100 million Eden Prairie, Minn., athletic equipment manufacturer, points out that SaaS providers frequently offer better security and uptime than organizations can achieve internally. “This is particularly true in the small and midsize markets,” he says. Second Wind has moved heavily onto a SaaS platform, including using NetSuite for ERP, Adaptive Planning for budgeting and forecasting, and Google Apps for e-mail and word processing.
This cloud computing environment—which makes software ubiquitous across desktops, notebooks and mobile devices—will contribute to the expansion of SaaS into areas beyond ERP, CRM and HR management systems, according to Gartner’s DeSisto. “SaaS is moving beyond formal business applications and expanding into the realm of social networking sites and various Internet applications,” he says. “All the lines are becoming blurred, as salespeople turn to sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to supplement enterprise applications.” In addition, Web conferencing applications are moving into the mainstream of SaaS, as organizations look to simplify connections.
This technology has already made its mark on the data center. According to various industry estimates, between 50 percent and 60 percent of all servers are now virtualized. The goal, of course, is to reduce server sprawl—and the inefficiencies and higher costs associated with it.
Virtualization is continuing to grow. “It is now moving into the realm of SMBs [small and medium businesses], and is also extending into storage and onto the desktop,” says Moosa Matariyeh, enterprise storage specialist for computer reseller and systems integrator CDW.
While storage virtualization has been available for several years, more sophisticated software is making it easier to provision resources on the fly. In addition, the increase in open systems is making it easier to integrate virtualization software with existing IT storage environments.
Meanwhile, on the desktop, the ability to adopt templates and a thin-client approach makes it easier to manage computers, patches, security and more. Some are also pushing virtualization out to notebook computers in order to create a more secure environment. “Government is turning to desktop virtualization in a major way because of the security advantages,” says Vincent Biddlecombe, executive vice president and CTO at Transplace, a supply-chain and logistics-services provider.
In fact, as wireless networks become more widespread, the use of virtualization on notebooks is likely to spread with them. CDW’s Matariyeh expects to see it take off in a big way by late 2009 or early 2010.
The challenge for all companies using virtualization is to manage it effectively—and that’s not easy. “We are now seeing virtual server sprawl, and organizations must address it as a real problem,” he notes.
Despite the challenges, the virtualization trend is unmistakable, according to Transplace’s Biddlecombe. “Virtualization is moving into the mainstream,” he says, “and it will continue to impact the way business and IT decision-makers manage their infrastructure and environments.” (See “Energy-Efficient Data Centers,” at right.)