Every year around about this time Gartner publishes its list of the top ten strategic technologies for the following year. The latest one covering 2011 has just been announced in a press release on their site. In the spring of each year Gartner also publishes a list of its top ten disruptive technologies, and of course the interesting question is, what’s the difference?! I don’t mean what the Gartner team puts on the list, but how they arrive at their list in the first place. It seems I am not the only person to have asked this question as Gartner analyst David Cearley answers this question on his blog.
He reckons it’s the starting point for his conversations with clients, and I can see that working from a Gartner perspective, but when I meet with clients the discussion is much more about implications for business requirements, solutions, delivery and operations than a focus on the individual technology. I had a great example of this with the launch of the new Apple MacBook Air, a notebook, or web book, or network computer, (it seems remarkably close conceptually to Larry Ellison’s views some years ago). Though the Apple press release is as ever a thrilling piece of multimedia, the BBC made clear what it really is all about, and that’s wireless-connected browser-based services. Their report also linked it to an extension of the iPad revolution and that’s where the question from the CIO I was talking to comes in.

The concern was, as is the case in many enterprises, how to manage the increasing user deployment of iPads, and now with the MacBook Air, possibly even further accelerated. Rather than discuss the standard related security issues, I will cut to the chase and and point out that what really poleaxed him was the storage issue all of this brings. It’s not just a volume issue either. The concept of Big Data, as used by EMC when describing they way it sees the strategic development of storage technology morphing into Big Data Computing, means supporting the MacBook Air and all of its relatives, and frankly lies behind most, if not all the strategic technologies on the Gartner list.
If you are going to deploy these devices within the enterprise and use them to deploy enterprise-based internal services then you will need online access to where the services are stored. The killer is not getting access, it’s the time it takes to find, and deliver, in current storage jargon everything that will need to be ‘online’. Currently due to cost and practicality as much data as possible is moved offline. The answer is a technology that didn’t make the list as it’s not quite so obviously exciting, or transformational, and it’s Flash Memory, and In Memory Computing. At the enterprise end the cloud will need to be based round huge amounts of Flash Memory with new techniques to index and recover, and at the browser end it will need to be running the processes as In Memory Computing.
That’s one solution implication, and another is exactly how do you handle this at a network level? Again real-time means that that past practice of quality of service evening out and prioritising is unlikely to handle these new demands, clearly there is a need for more bandwidth, but it’s more complicated than that. (BTW are you beginning to see why HP had to get into the network business?). Given the shift towards an increasing amount of externalisation in working patterns that the Gartner top ten strategic technologies, plus devices like the Apple MacBook Air, brings, the most likely outcome is a group of users from several different enterprises collaborating together on a common process; say a supply network, and needing to share data and computational resources. Now the challenge is that all of this needs to be in a safe ‘walled garden’ that other non authorised users can’t reach and that means looking at something like a Cisco VCE engine to create and manage virtual communities of users, processes, data and computational resources. This is an ‘edge in’ cloud network management tool whereas the EMC Big Data approach is a ‘centre out’ resource deployment technique. There is a good update on VCE and the Cisco-EMC coalition here.
And there to me is the challenge; all of these technologies individually are focussed and understandable answers to business and technology questions, but the real issue is the implications for solution deployment! Unfortunately, that’s not so easy to either list or release as a product!