Tech Industry Trends 2010: A Year of Guarded Hope

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At the same time, virtualization has allowed enterprises to eliminate entire server farms, slashing operating costs and raising asset utilization rates from the 10% to 30% range to the 70% to 90% range. Removing a single x86 server from a data center can result in savings of more than $400 a year in energy costs alone, Gartner says.

In addition to streamlining and making IT infrastructure more economical, projects such as server virtualization have laid the groundwork for more strategic IT initiatives going forward. "What I'm seeing is a trend towards leveraging virtualization as a building block for an internal cloud methodology," says Chris Poelker, vice president of enterprise solutions at FalconStor Software.

Cloudy Skies Ahead

As the freeze on capital investment begins to thaw, companies will move ahead with projects that were delayed in 2009, industry watchers say. Certain categories of hardware will see early gains, for instance.

Delayed PC purchases are likely to take priority, particularly since Windows 7 is now available. Storage, too, it set for a recovery, Bartels says. "You can hold your breath for a while, but with the inexorable growth in the amount of stuff that needs to be stored, sooner or later you're going to have to go out and buy more storage equipment," Bartels says.

In general, mindsets are shifting from how to cut IT costs to how to help the business grow.

"There was definitely a wave of cutting and consolidating and wringing out costs in 2009, but at the same time a lot of enterprises kept their eyes on the ball in terms of where they want to be when we come out of this," says Phil Hochmuth, a senior analyst at Yankee Group.

Companies want their applications and infrastructure to be more flexible and elastic, and they want their employees to be able to work collaboratively and have access to the tools and data they need, no matter where they're located. These priorities became clearer during the downtown, Hochmuth says.

"Companies have polished their ideas around what their architecture is going to look like and what they want to be able to do," he says. "I think we're going to see people hitting the ground running when they do get some money back."

Projects such as desktop virtualization will get the green light, along with remote access programs for teleworkers. These are projects companies wanted to undertake last year, but were forced to delay, Hochmuth says.

Increased virtualization in the data center is also on tap, as enterprises look beyond the server to storage, Poelker says. "Once you combine storage virtualization with server virtualization, you create that abstraction between the two and now mobility of data can occur without reference to geographic location. That's going to be the technology that actually allows a cloud to take place."

While the hype around cloud computing is at an all-time high, there are signs that IT's attitude about cloud computing has changed tremendously over the last year. The lousy economy accelerated enterprise interest in the cloud, Carr says.

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