It's "predictions season" at IDC, which always kicks off with broad forecasts for the coming year. This year's initial report has the dramatic title "Recovery and Transformation," which sounds more optimistic than it really is.
Basically, IDC expects IT to grow 3.2 percent worldwide (3 percent in the United States), which is slightly faster than most people believe the economy will grow. IDC senior vice president and chief analyst Frank Gens told me that the most dramatic swing will be in small and medium-size businesses, which will see 3.6 percent growth, up from negative 3.5 percent in 2009. He expects large companies to be more conservative, upping their spending by just 1.8 percent.
[ For a look at the value of concrete developments rather than trends, check out InfoWorld's top 10 emerging enterprise technologies of the year. ]
This qualifies as a recovery, but we're not exactly roaring back, and a lot of the IT folks who were laid off are going to stay that way. Typical of recovery in its early phases, contract work and outsourcing will come before hiring, in order to minimize downside risk.
But IDC takes things a step further. Gens points out that even during the downturn, hosting grew 3.5 percent this year and should attain 4.5 percent next year. Revenue to system integrators, which fell 1.5 percent this year, will increase 2.5 percent in 2010. As Gens notes, "people have been sitting on projects. Every company is coming out of the recession with agendas." But more than the usual share of that work will go to contractors and outsourcers.
This includes -- you knew this was coming -- cloud service providers. "Cloud greatly expands and matures" is IDC's biggest prediction for IT. IDC expects more "enterprise grade" offerings (as IBM introduced recently) that provide not only infrastructure but meaningful SLAs. At the same time, in large enterprises, private clouds will start to take off.
Given that I have yet to sense real enthusiasm for any type of cloud computing among IT professionals, I found both predictions a little dubious. For one thing, I asked Gens, when IBM says it has an infrastructure-as-a-service "cloud" offering, isn't it just hosting by another name? What's so cloudy about it?
Gens gave a lucid answer: "I'm not worried about the blurring line between hosting and cloud. Hosters will use more cloudlike architectures to get more efficient, and cloud guys will add more SLAs, options for private lines, etc., becoming more responsive to traditional enterprise needs." At that point, Gens backed into IDC's definition of cloud computing: "If hosters add utility (shared) services, consumption-based pricing, self-service, and APIs -- four big things most don't yet do -- then they'll be 'clouds.'"
Gens says these four criteria also define the private cloud -- and that in surveys IT management at large enterprises prefer the private cloud to the public cloud for security, availability, performance, and cost reasons. No question, says Gens, that public cloud offerings will ultimately have the most disruptive effect. But private clouds will be a necessary interim step in large companies unwilling to cede control of runtime infrastructure to providers.
Personally, I wonder how many big IT departments will be able to justify the level of effort to make their "services" meet the four-part criteria Gens articulated. If you ask me, growth of public or private clouds may appear to be dramatic next year, but that's mainly because current levels of adoption are so low.
But that's just my reaction. The IDC Web site lays out 10 predictions for 2010 that you can agree or disagree with.