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They say a week is a long time in politics, in which case, it’s a lifetime in the tech arena, where new products and innovations appear practically daily.

As the new year dawns, it looks set to be another gadget-filled, market-changing one, according to local analysts, with more competition, choice and sophistication ahead.

Bigger, faster, better

Following an eventful 2010, with the WikiLeaks saga, net neutrality debates, and Facebook’s domination of headlines, 2011 sees no slowing down for the online world.

According to World Wide Worx MD, Arthur Goldstuck, 2010’s obsession with everything ‘as-a-service’ will continue to gain momentum.

“Cloud computing will come into its own as, on the one hand, both businesses and consumers realise they have been using it all along; and, on the other hand, the security issues that hold back its take-up are addressed more aggressively,” he says.

Goldstuck notes the explosion of bandwidth in SA will be the major factor behind local take-up, while the increasing need for hosted services and data backup will drive cloud computing globally. “The Google factor will be a key element too, as Google drives more and more applications into the cloud.”

With new devices and applications enabling access to more content more of the time, data traffic is set to rocket. “The explosion of the tablet market and its requirement for mobile broadband will be a major driver of data use globally, and the impact will be felt in SA in the second half of the year,” says Goldstuck.

In addition, video on the Internet – both Web-based and mobile – will be a major growth area, putting heavy pressure on networks and ISPs to deliver quality bandwidth, he adds. “It’s a chicken-and-egg situation: greater availability of bandwidth drives greater use of video, and greater use of video demands greater supply of bandwidth.”

In SA, says Goldstuck, the switch-on (or delay) of the West Africa Cable System will be a major event. “Once it comes into play, international bandwidth costs will fall even further, removing any excuse to keep data charges high.”

On the global front, Goldstuck foresees location-based services such as Foursquare and its Facebook alternative (Facebook Places) creating massive hype. “But it will also irritate and disappoint those who find it getting in the way of ‘real applications’. Oh wait, that already happened in 2010. But it will become a more public debate.”

He also predicts the slow death of MySpace, “as the Murdoch empire fails to figure out how to compete with garage and dorm-room start-ups”.

“That also happened in 2010, but expect it to get worse. A series of CEOs will fail to turn it around, and it will become the untouchable of social media.”

Other predictions include the demise of pay models for online news, such as those employed by Rupert Murdoch for content on the Wall Street Journal and Times of London. “Pay gates for newspapers will crash and burn, or at least their reputations will.”

E-books will become the dominant form of publishing while both Internet on TV and TV on the Internet will evolve rapidly on the smartphone, says Goldstuck. “It’s the way of the future.”

Finally, apps will become the preferred means of achieving utility on a computer or phone, says Goldstuck. “If the device does not support it, the device will become history.”

A new leaf

This may well be the year companies finally realise the business value of energy-saving technologies, says sustainableIT CEO, Tim James, as the focus switches to ‘IT for green’.“The major growth area in 2011 for sustainable computing will be how ICT can be used to reduce emissions within business operations. This goes beyond traditional green IT which is more focused on getting IT’s own emissions reduced.”

Also known as ‘IT for green’ or ‘green IT 2.0’, it looks at the application of intelligent tooling to reduce emissions across business operations, explains James.

“A simple example would be video conferencing reducing air travel, but the opportunity is very broad and includes smart motors, smart buildings and plants, smart grids, smart logistics and so on.”

In terms of traditional green IT, notes James, growth will occur in data centre infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions as these centres continue experiencing capacity constraints.

“DCIM will evolve to allow data centre managers to manage the data centre as an ecosystem from space, cooling and energy through to application provisioning and application end of life.”

He predicts PC power management will take off in a big way locally, as business realises growing energy costs need to be curtailed. “The greatest cost reduction opportunity within IT from an energy perspective remains implementing PC power management solutions.”

A trend appearing across the technology board makes its appearance here too.

“The cloud will continue to evolve and will increasingly be marketed as a ‘green solution’. Whether this is in fact the case is a moot point as cloud services do require significant backend, energy-hogging infrastructure,” says James, adding that when designed correctly, true cloud-based services have significant benefits.

He predicts the biggest challenge facing the sector will continue to be selling on ‘value’ rather than on ‘risk’. “Business needs to realise that sustainability brings with it business advantage and should not only be adopted from a risk mitigation perspective.

“Risk is often a grudge purchase but true value can significantly increase the bottom line if leveraged effectively.”

‘Steal everything’

Previously, cyber criminals were content with pinching bank account information, passwords and PINs. But now they’re hungry for more, and won’t stop until they pilfer every personal detail they can. In a December report outlining its predictions, Kaspersky Lab dubbed 2011 the year in which ‘take it all’ becomes the new cyber crime motto.

The security firm predicts the widespread use of a new class of spyware programs in 2011, the aim of which can be defined quite simply as: steal everything. “They will gather any information that they can about users, right down to the colour of their hair and eyes, and will examine every document stored on infected computers.”

Sergey Novikov, head of Kaspersky’s EEMEA research centre, says targeted attacks on big, medium-size and small companies will be the major threat in 2011, increasing in both number and complexity.

Stealing confidential company information to sell for financial gain remains the main motivation, says Novikov. Corporates and enterprises are likely to see more advanced attacks and exploits, he predicts, which will be difficult to patch. This will have serious implications for both major corporations and government institutions, says Novikov.

Another trend will be the rise of mobile malware on various platforms, including Windows Mobile, Google’s Android system and RIM’s BlackBerry OS.

Trojans and spyware that steal private information including company details and passwords off smartphones will become more common, says Novikov. The focus on cleaning out data will also be seen here, as criminals bag not only bank account and financial information, but everything from phone and address numbers, to personal photos.

“All information on a computer is power and more information means more power for criminals, who can sell these private details to other parties – it’s another way to make money.”

Novikov also anticipates cloud technology protection to be a significant concern in the security field in the coming year, and it will be vital to identify and destroy new malware in the shortest time possible.

“Malware will be a major issue, as viruses take on the features and character of social networks, and hackers and phishers turn to malware for commercial gain,” adds Goldstuck.

But there’s a flip side to criminal malware, he notes, which sees activists using hi-tech techniques to draw attention to a range of causes. This so-called “hacktivism” was seen in the DDOS attacks during the WikiLeaks saga, for example.

“Governments will continue to respond, covertly, with similar weapons, but are more likely to be the victims of targeted attacks than the perpetrators.”

Goldstuck also anticipates ‘xLeaks’, as in numerous variations on WikiLeaks. “OpenLeaks is just the first major contender, but there will be whistle-blowing or leak sites for a range of specific topics or geographies.”

Novikov concedes that the WikiLeaks saga marked a new era. “The world has changed; WikiLeaks changed the landscape significantly and such attacks on influential government information will be repeated.”

According to Kaspersky, the complexity of threats reached a whole new level in 2010, with a number of malware incidents demonstrating unprecedented distribution speeds, scale, and public attention. This flood of complex new attacks saw its climax in the Stuxnet worm, “the first serious, high-profile instance of malicious activity with the potential for significant industrial sabotage”, according to Kaspersky.

Alexander Gostev, chief security expert at Kaspersky Lab, says the Stuxnet case is particularly interesting not only because of its extraordinary complexity, but also because it targets programmable logic controllers used in industrial manufacturing.

“This case has demonstrated that the long-standing boundary between the virtual and real worlds is beginning to erode. This presents some very new problems that we will all have to tackle in the near future.”“Stuxnet was just the beginning; we will see more such cases, but perhaps only two or three rather than hundreds, because it’s very complicated to create these kinds of malware,“ says Novikov.

In addition, potential changes to the structure of the malware authoring community are likely to have a profound impact on the IT threat landscape during 2011, says Kaspersky. “It cannot be ruled out that governments and commercial organisations will make use of Stuxnet-like programs for their own ends.”

“It is possible that we will only see the beginnings of these kinds of attacks in 2011, with their full force only being felt in years to come,” notes Gostev. “However, it is already clear that the arrival of this new generation of cyber criminals means that those tasked with counteracting such cyber threats will need to raise their game considerably.”

Consolidated communication

2010 was a rollercoaster year on the mobile front, with RIM’s fight to keep its BlackBerry servers independent, and heated local debates around interconnect fees and operator performance.

Fezekile Mashinini, telecoms analyst at BMI-TechKnowledge, says competition is likely to be the hallmark of telecoms activity in the coming year.

“The local telecoms sector is likely to witness consolidation in both the ISP market space and the alternative voice markets, which are becoming increasingly competitive.”

He also foresees major cost-cutting drives by the incumbents as profit margin pressure continues to bite.

“Cost saving measures by operators will include some tightening in infrastructure investment spending in SA, although the realities of massive growth in network usage (driven by Internet data traffic) will require a certain minimum level of ongoing investment if quality of services is not to be compromised.“

Mashinini predicts infrastructure sharing will continue to be exploited as far as possible by all players. “The major drive is falling margins, including mobile voice services which are becoming more competitive, and have also been affected by declining interconnection revenues.

“Mobile operators are looking to data revenue to boost the top line but the contribution of consumer IP services to the bottom line remains questionable and the enterprise IP market is also becoming much more competitive. Voice will remain a major contributor of telco revenues.”

Globally, he anticipates the ongoing convergence of IT and telecoms. This will include further consolidation, especially by telecoms equipment manufacturers, as players from the Far East continue to gain market share.

“Further inroads will be made into Africa by international players including, but not limited to, major Asian players.”

He says regulatory challenges will continue to stymie further competition, including local loop unbundling, although the above developments suggest competition is already becoming very hot.

Cloud control

Data, and the way it is gathered, stored, accessed and protected, will undergo big changes this year, as transparency and management become key focus areas.

Hannes Fourie, senior analyst for systems and infrastructure at IDC, says the biggest impact will come from a number of emerging technologies, including cloud computing, virtualisation and data management solutions.

“Regulations, data location visibility and data privacy will become central themes in all discussions around cloud,” he says.

Fourie adds that the Protection of Personal Information Bill, which is set to become an Act in early 2011, is likely to heavily impact the way local organisations support operations in other African countries. “It prevents companies from sending personal information to countries which do not have equivalent regulations,” he explains.

Regulations will have significant ramifications for cloud services, as companies will now have to have visibility on where their data is stored. “This will put pressure on the storage administrators to get better insight into their operations, which will lead to investment in various storage solutions including management, archiving and security tools.”

According to Fourie, the accelerated adoption of virtualisation in 2010 was largely driven by data centre consolidation initiatives, mostly focused on the server environment. “2011 is expected to be a tipping point where enterprises will look more seriously at systems management, automation and security and expand their virtualised environment into production and beyond their server infrastructure. This will form part of ‘the journey to the private cloud’.

“CIOs are looking to gain transparency in their operations and are constantly challenged by the business to become more efficient in managing their infrastructure,” notes Fourie.

This will lead to the intelligent utilisation of resources becoming increasingly important, he adds, leading to higher adoption of automated tools.

Video again rears its head, this time in the storage realm, as unprecedented growth brings new challenges.

“In the storage environment we expect to see customers being challenged by unstructured data growth, due to digital video and image creation and replication accounting for the majority of data growth in 2011.”

Fourie also foresees the integration of data centre systems and “stacks”, and the collision of suppliers, continuing.

“In 2010 we saw the bundling of server, storage, network, operating system, hypervisors, and management as a defining feature of the market. In 2011, as customers demand simplicity and out-of-the-box integration and interoperability solutions, vendors will continue to look for partnerships or acquisitions to fill in their portfolios to provide ‘cloud in a box’ solutions. We’ll see continued footprint expansion within and across layers of the IT stack.”

Video star

Last year April saw the eruption of the Icelandic Eyjafjallajokull volcano strand thousands of travellers, and for many, technology helped fill the gap when physical meetings were impossible, giving video conferencing an unexpected boost.

“Video will be the real big change this year,” says David Meads, GM of Cisco SA. He cites the arrival of undersea cables in 2009 and 2010 as an important driver. “Africa is now connected to the rest of the world, which opens up possibilities for using video for communication in the business and consumer environment.

“If you look at the trends of traffic across networks historically and how they’ll change in the next 12 months and beyond, there’s likely to be a huge shift towards video, with the bandwidth capabilities to support it and the realisation that video communication is now very different.”

Video conferencing of yesteryear required a PhD, in Meads’ words, to get everything set up, only to result in a rather woeful experience. But now the technology has developed to such an extent, coupled with new bandwidth availability, that video meetings are close to the real thing.

Another development is the use of efficient networking technologies to bring three-pronged benefits for people, planet and profit.

“The large technology vendors are some of the worst perpetrators when it comes to the environment, as they use complex equipment which requires lots of power and air-conditioning to keep it going,” says Meads.

He explains that in recent years, reduced power consumption has become a fundamental design element when developing new networking technologies. “New software features provide the ability to manage power consumption of any device connected to the network.”

According to Meads, video conferencing can massively reduce expense bills for travelling, in addition to the reduction in emissions from cars and planes not being used as frequently. “The third benefit is productivity.

“So a) You save the cost of travel; b) you reduce the impact on the environment; and c) you save people’s time and productivity,” notes Meads. “This all makes a compelling argument for video conferencing, and there’s a real expectation that video will see great growth this year and beyond.”

On the broader networking front, Meads sees three major trends, which are all closely connected: cloud computing, managed services and data centre virtualisation.

While cloud and virtualisation obviously go hand-in-glove, they also bring a change in the way companies charge and bill customers for services, which are increasingly being delivered over the cloud, says Meads.

“Customers without exception, whether they’re SMEs or government departments, are looking at operational expense.”

He adds that if vendors can prove IT-as-a-service results in a more predictable opex, organisations will be keen to adopt these technologies. “While these developments aren’t exactly new, they will accelerate this year.”

Lyzette Engelbrecht

ITWEB, 10 January 2011

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