Business computing in the year 2040

Peering 28 years into the future has more value than you may think -- if you start by considering what today's IT professionals lack to do their jobs effectively

Last week I sat on a panel at a U.S. State Department event that looked ahead at the future of technology. My assignment: Predict what mainstream IT will be like 25 to 30 years from now.

A friend suggested I simply say the two words "flying cars." But I took the assignment seriously and conjured up my predictions the only way I knew how: Start with major problems IT faces today and guess how they will be solved. Coming up with IT's four biggest problems was relatively easy.

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Managing infrastructure complexity. Solutions are emerging, but the biggest problem for most IT operations remains keeping the data center infrastructure reliable and available. The main difficulty is diversity: legacy systems, virtualized resources, specialized infrastructure, the rollover from obsolete to new equipment and management software, and so on. Plus, all those temporary fixes that were put in place years ago that no one has time to redo properly.

Fighting a losing security battle. The main thing that determines whether criminal hackers breach your defenses is whether you have anything worth stealing. Everyone knows that perimeter security, although absolutely essential, has no chance of fending off determined bad guys. Today, your best shot is to harden security around your most valuable assets and hope that sends cyber looters somewhere else where the pickings are easier.

Developing the right applications. Ultimately, IT's job is to deliver applications the business needs and wants. (This is what the cliché "IT/business alignment" actually means.) While many organizations have improved their development processes, typically the dev, test, and deploy cycle still yields applications that fall short of what business stakeholders expected when requirements were captured.

Dealing with ballooning data. At InfoWorld, we've devoted a channel to the data explosion in honor of a pronouncement made by IDC in 2008 that data in the enterprise doubles every 18 months. It's not just accommodating those petabytes, much of it now security and system metadata. If you're going to store such gargantuan quantities, wouldn't it be nice to fulfill one of the oldest promises in IT and derive consummate value from it?

When you project out how the IT industry and its customers will solve these problems, it helps to remember that much of the technology we use today was developed over three decades ago, such as the x86 instruction set (1978), the Ethernet protocol stack (1980), and the SCSI standard (1978), to name a few.

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