For small and midsize businesses, 2011 was an eventful year for the owners and managers tasked with technology decisions. The year's highlights range from the arrival of new technologies such as the introduction of Intel's Thunderbolt peripheral interface to the release of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
But it wasn't all highlights. Beyond the promising new products and technologies, you saw many tech titans at their worst: RIM stumbled big-time in October with the most severe service outage in its history while Sony saw its Playstation Network so badly hacked it took more than a month to fix.
As 2011 draws to a close, it's time to look ahead to 2012. Namely, what can small and mid-sized businesses (SMB) expect to see in the next 12 months? The 10 technological trends listed below will affect businesses of all sizes in the coming year, but they promise to have an particular impact on small and mid-size businesses in 2012.
1. Microsoft Hyper-V3 Means Cheaper, More Powerful Virtualization
Microsoft looks set to single-handedly up the ante on the virtualization front with the release of Windows Server 8, which will incorporate a seriously beefed-up hypervisor. Hyper-V 3 will come with substantial improvements in the areas of network, storage, scalability and live migration capability. Its significance for SMBs and SMEs that have yet to deploy virtualization is substantial, allowing them to create a full-fledged virtualization setup with minimum capital outlay with regards to software licensing fees.
Hyper-V 3 will exert significant pressure on market leader VMware by delivering "good enough" virtualization at a fraction of the cost of a full vSphere implementation. More importantly, Hyper-V 3 will recast the capabilities that businesses expect in a free virtualization product. Expect cheaper, more powerful virtualization to materialize as virtualization vendors react with price cuts and more advanced capabilities at lower (or free) price points. No date has been announced for Windows Server 8 at the time of writing, though it's anticipated to debut in 2012.
2. More Network Attached Storage Appliances
Network Attached Storage (NAS) appliances have been growing progressively more powerful over the years, narrowing the gap with entry-level SANs. Indeed, many new NAS products released today are certified for virtualization platforms such as VMware, Hyper-V and Citrix, with more advanced models capable of replication between NAS or even supporting cloud storage such as Amazon's Simple Storage Service as an additional tier of data backup.
Expect this trend of powerful NAS to continue and even accelerate in 2012. For SMBs, mid- to high-end NAS models have attained a sufficient level of performance and features to effectively serve as the primary storage for smaller businesses, or in branch offices of larger organizations. As such, small business and enterprise will deploy more NAS in 2012, and possibly even using them as SAN-replacements in certain cases.
3. USB 3.0 Devices Abound
You've heard this before, but USB 3.0 should finally make itself felt in 2012. One key change is Intel's official commitment to "SuperSpeed" USB, evidenced by the integration of USB 3.0 support in upcoming chipsets. This is expected to drive USB 3.0 adoption next year as they become available, greatly increasing the overall appeal for manufacturers to make USB 3.0 devices.
With a data transfer rate of up to 5Gbps, the widespread availability of USB 3.0 will have wide-ranging effects. For one, portable storage devices such as flash drives and portable HDDs will be even more popular than before. Moreover, SMBs are likely to be presented with more options in terms of easy-to-deploy USB 3.0-based Direct Attached Storage (DAS) devices. Instead of having to struggle with eSATA or fiddling with special interface cards, new USB 3.0 storage appliances or tape drives could be easily deployed for the purpose of data backup and restoration for key workstations and servers.
4. Thinner, Lighter Ultrabooks Challenge MacBook Air
Despite the criticism that Intel has attracted over its execution strategy for the company's Ultrabooks, the chip maker is serious about taking on Apple's increasingly popular MacBook Air with a new generation of thin and lightweight laptops. More than 60 models of Ultrabooks will be available in 2012, while rival chip maker AMD has also recently indicated that it is working on its own ultra-thin laptops.
Ultimately, it is clear that a fundamental shift is taking place to the laptop's form factor. By stripping out the venerable optical disc drive and moving towards more advanced materials, computer makers are shifting from thick and bulky laptops to a computing future that is both thin and light. With a longer battery life and lower prices than conventional laptops, we suspect that many SMBs will buy into Ultrabooks for use in the office.
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