Virtualization leads top 10 strategic technologies for 2009

Much of what's on this annual list, released at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo here, is familiar from last year.

Gartner has ranked virtualization as the No. 1 strategic technology for next year, not for its "tremendously obvious" ability to virtualize servers, but for its increasing capability to virtualize just about everything else in a data center.

Much of what's on this annual list, released at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo here, is familiar from last year. But Gartner has tweaked the rankings as it looked at the progress of these technologies, and weighed its client and research feedback. The technologies on the list have the "potential to be disruptive to your environment or market in some way," said Gartner analyst David Cearley.

Here's Gartner's list for 2009:

1. Virtualization. (Ranked No. 5 last year.) In forecasting the impact of the economy on IT spending, Gartner put virtualization near the top of must-have technologies. But to make the strategic technology list, it had to have other characteristics as well, namely a Swiss Army Knife-like capability to be applied beyond servers.

Gartner analyst Carl Claunch said that in storage, for instance, virtualization allows users to "to combine different kinds and generations of storage technology." That gives them the freedom to mix and match storage technologies based on competitive bids, he said.

2. Cloud computing. (New to the list.) If there was a technology hype list, cloud computing would have been the top choice, said Cearley. He got some audience chuckles with this line: "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting somebody that's talking about cloud computing these days."

But Gartner sees cloud computing as having a massive game-changing role, not only as the platform for software as a service, but as a computing and storage infrastructure provider, as well as a platform for information and business processes.

3. Computing fabrics. (No. 8 last year.) Server technology is evolving to a point where you buy the physical resource you need, whether that is memory, I/O or processor, and fashion them together to create resource pools. A computing fabric "combines those [resources] as you need them," said Claunch. IT shops will, potentially, be able to dispense with their separate pools of small, medium and large servers under this model. Blade servers have some of this capability -- the ability to move memory and processor capability -- but it's limited to what's inside the chassis, he said.

4. Web-oriented architecture. (New but similar to "the Web platform" -- No. 7 last year.) Gartner talked last year about how the Web will be the model for services delivery. This year, it discussed in terms of an architectural approach, how Web models will influence service-oriented architectures. The architecture, as the name implies, uses Web standards, identifiers, formats and protocols.

5. Enterprise mashups. (No. 6 last year.) Mashups, a fun word, are becoming a serious enterprise tool, allowing users to use public APIs to combine various services and capabilities quickly. The content aggregation tools give business users the flexibility to combine data inside and outside the enterprise.

6. Specialized systems. (New to the list.) A Cisco router is an obvious example, but there are specialized appliances for Java, data warehousing and other processes. It's an approach that could lead to some cost savings, and "could be wide open" as an emerging trend, said Claunch.

7. Social software and social networking. (No. 10 last year.) The tools offer "the ability to work across the organization in dynamic fashion," said Claunch.

8. Unified communications. (No. 2 last year.) Gartner said that over the next five year, "the number of different communications vendors companies may be reduced by at least 50%," thanks to unified communications.

9. Business intelligence. (New.) This is hardly new to enterprises, but increases in computing power is giving companies the means to expand business intelligence capabilities, such as applying BI analytics directly into business processes.

10. Green IT. (No. 1 last year.) Already a strategic technology that will not melt away, Green IT has not diminished in importance. For IT, green is everything, and that includes anything that can help cut the energy bill and reduce fuel use.

One attendee, John Layok, vice president of applications for an insurance company he asked to not be named, said all 10 technologies in Gartner's list were "right on," especially business intelligence. It's both hard work and an easy concept, and moving analytics into a business process is "exactly where we need to go."

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