Hadoop, SharePoint, vSphere, and the iPad point to intriguing possibilities for tech

Even for tech veterans, several new developments indicate exciting directions for IT

Dear Bob ...

I don't really need advice so much as a perspective. I've been in IT for more than 30 years, which makes me a codger is some circles. I try to keep up to date and to stay interested in the latest and greatest, but it's getting harder. The new stuff seems to be increasingly like the old stuff.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Find out how to move beyond tech's buzzwords and catchphrases in 2011 in "The straight talk on IT's new directions." | Keep up on career advice with Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]

Is it just me, or has IT run out of serious innovation?

- Getting old

Dear Aging ...

Time for my favorite answer: It depends.

There's a lot going on that's new and genuinely interesting -- so much so that I can't even begin to keep track of it all anymore. For example:

  • I have only the most superficial knowledge of Hadoop and could be way off base when I say it looks like a very promising approach to managing massive amounts of data.
  • With SharePoint and its integration with its office suite, Microsoft (yes, Microsoft!) is seriously innovating in the unstructured data management space. We still need a Codd and Date for unstructured data. Microsoft has to relearn its ability to present itself -- have you ever seen a worse job of explaining a product? -- but the tools have become very interesting.
  • After decades of server-centric thinking, Microsoft and VMware are making local computing interesting again. Microsoft's cloud strategy is all about extending personal computing into the cloud without moving personal computing with it. VMware's vSphere, which virtualizes the desktop with fully synchronized local and server-based processing modes, makes it possible to work in the same virtual environment from multiple devices without a hopeless jumble.
  • The Apple iPad is fun. Apple's App Store is genuinely interesting. Computing has become personal again, and the software side is affordable in a way that PC software hasn't been since the early days of PC-DOS.
  • Development tools are a problem, which is to say we're living in very interesting times. Application development is surrounded by insurmountable opportunity in the form of a wide variety of platforms. Many can do a very credible job of building applications so big and important that they're nearly certain to outlive the development kit used to build them. It's a headache, but it's genuinely interesting.
  • Social media -- yes, it's important. No, I don't have anything new and interesting to say about it, except this: Enterprises who figure out the internal version are going to finally crack the knowledge management nut that's frustrated so many organizations for so many years. Until now, knowledge management has meant volunteering personal time to perform dreary tasks that benefit other people. Social media could change that entirely, turning knowledge management into online communities -- if businesses are wise enough to understand that social media have been successful to the extent they're fun.
  • Most important of all, IT's boundary is in the process of changing. IT's job used to be done when it delivered the software. Now, IT's job is to collaborate with the rest of the business in designing, planning, and achieving business change.
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