Tech that should be on your radar for 2012

These 10 technologies can help your business gain a competitive advantage and serve customers better

There are a variety of new technologies advancing in 2012 that you should investigate, if you aren't already doing so, to give your small business a leg up on the competition. These recent technologies are beginning to be widely adopted and will continue to drive business forward.

1. Tablets

Tablets are highly visible, and many users want them, if only to read books and consume media. However, from a business perspective, replacing notebook computers with much lower-cost tablets may have a double benefit of reducing capital expenditures as well as increasing user satisfaction. Security can be an issue, both protecting company data and keeping malware and other threats out. Fortunately, both encryption providers and antivirus vendors are busily creating business-focused products that can help ensure security.

[ Learn about consumerization of IT in person March 4-6, 2012, at IDG's CITE conference in San Francisco. | Get expert advice about planning and implementing your BYOD strategy with InfoWorld's 29-page "Mobile and BYOD Deep Dive" PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

2. Windows 8
Like previous versions of Windows, Windows 8 will probably not be widely adopted in any great hurry. However, the intriguing capabilities of Windows 8 -- especially with Windows Mobile 8 and Windows Server 8 to create an easy-to-use, fully capable unified communications environment -- could mean rapid adoption for highly-mobile organizations that can benefit from the access-anywhere model.

3. Big data
The company that can best serve its customers will be the most likely to succeed--and that entails knowing as much as possible about your customers. Hadoop is a system designed by the Apache Foundation to process large amounts of data. As organizations accumulate terabytes of data about customers, business processes, partners and more, the model of a single database running on a single server becomes less useful. Hadoop runs across multiple systems at once, allowing bigger data sets as well as separate search engines for different purposes.

4. Storage virtualization
Storage virtualization allows for many useful features in storage area network systems. Putting a layer of virtualization between the servers allows for thin provisioning, automatic tiering of storage, instant snapshots, and deduplication. Since there is no direct correlation between the volume a server mounts and the physical storage being used, a volume may actually be spread across multiple systems. This allows for the most-used files to be stored on the fastest drives (auto-tiering), for volumes to be expanded as needed (thin provisioning), for a system to store only one copy of each unique file (deduplication), and for instant copies of volumes to be made for backups, system recovery, and other uses (snapshots).

5. Network virtualization
Server virtualization software, such as VMware and Hyper-V, is only the beginning of a truly virtual environment. To create a useful private cloud, you need to be able to create multiple separate networks, each running different virtual applications. This enables networks for customers, internal users, software developers, HR, and so forth, without requiring different hardware for each. Combined with server and storage virtualization, network virtualization facilitates a fluid and responsive data center, where you can move resources from one network to another without having to reconfigure hardware. And with network virtualization, each virtual server can have its own gigabit Ethernet connection.

6. Cloud backups
Experienced systems administrators may be leery about outsourcing critical applications, but with backups this can make a lot of sense. Because the backups are a secondary or tertiary copy of your data, cloud backups can more affordably fulfill archiving or disaster recovery than with moving tapes around. Since the cloud services are typically disk-based, recovering is speedier than finding, mounting, and reading tapes, and capacity can grow as needed without new equipment.

7. SSDs
Solid-state disks (SSDs) have been around for years but, two things may move SSDs to a more central role in IT. The first is the capability of a number of systems to use SSDs as cache, effectively giving an entire storage system the performance of SSDs while retaining the low cost of hard-disk based storage. The second factor is the destruction of hard-disk manufacturing facilities from flooding in Thailand in 2011. Hard-disk prices will probably remain high throughout 2012. At the same time, SSD prices are dropping and capabilities are improving.

8. IPv6
The Internet Protocol version 6 numbering system replaces decades-old IPv4. Address blocks for new domains are no longer available for IPv4. This doesn't mean that you can't get an IPv4 address any longer. However, IPv6 is beginning to be adopted more widely, and it can yield substantial advantages -- such as unified communications or remote access using Windows 2008 R2, where a user can easily access corporate resources from anywhere in the world.

9. Linux
Linux is nothing new
, and has been used for many years in specialized roles such as Web servers and application servers. Now, however, the open source OS is making inroads into production environments, with database servers, file and print servers, and even workstations running on Linux. Its great customizability, capability to run on much less expensive hardware than Windows can, and the availability of mature open-source applications for nearly any enterprise application mean that it can be much less expensive to run than competing operating systems.

10. Cloud applications
Cloud services have expanded in the last few years from specialized applications, such as payroll and ERP, to general office suites such as Office 365 or Google Apps for Business, to IT fundamentals such as storage or servers. While service outages and loss of data have been widely publicized, they have in reality affected relatively few customers for relatively short periods of time. The real trick is to use the cloud effectively while retaining data security and availability  -- no easy task.

This story, "Tech that should be on your radar for 2012" was originally published by PCWorld .

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