9 trends for 2014 and beyond

Who says enterprise IT is boring? Big ideas and bold new tech are shaking things up like never before, so it's time to consider the long-term implications

The year isn't over yet, but I've already reached my limit of trying to make sense of many new developments. So I'm ready to start the season of prognostication early. Originally, I figured I'd reel off some predictions about the coming year. But we're at one of those rare junctures when a bunch of trends have begun to crystallize -- and I'm pretty sure many of them will persist for more than 12 months.

Here's my mixed bag of nine trends. Feel free to add your own.

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1. Cloud is the new hardware. Credit Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz with this one. The thesis: All big industry shifts have been driven by new computing platforms, from the PC to client-server to the Internet. For servers, storage, and networking equipment to behave like one big "machine," where applications can assume massive scalability, the entire infrastructure must be virtualized and centrally controllable -- that is, software-defined. Ultimately this trend goes beyond SDN to include every system in the data center, all the way to HVAC. Advanced software control schemes pioneered by public cloud providers will continue to trickle down to the enterprise.

2. Systems of engagement lead the way. So what do you need massive cloud scalability for? Not old-fashioned enterprise "systems of record," such as ERP, where the data model seldom changes and you know roughly how many people will use it. Where the cloud shines is in powering "systems of engagement": customer-facing Web and mobile applications whose usage may fluctuate by magnitudes.

Optimizing that customer interaction has become the hottest area of technology, driving the development of elastic infrastructure, new database technologies, and the collection and analysis of big data (mainly Web clickstreams and other user data). Big data analysis using Hadoop-based applications may be the single biggest advancement in enterprise technology in the last decade. Not far behind are NoSQL databases such as MongoDB, Cassandra, and Couchbase, which scale out like crazy and enable on-the fly changes to data models.

3. Big data gets ahead of itself. Big data analytics hold enormous promise, but in the near term there are simply too many big data solutions searching for problems. In the long term, the potential for big data goes way beyond optimizing e-commerce to embrace all kinds of verticals, from manufacturing to transportation to the electrical grid.

But those vertical areas require the industrial Internet (also known as the Internet of things) to come online, where connected sensors deliver huge quantities of telemetry to foster improvements in product design, accurate prediction of failure, and so on. GE and IBM are early leaders in this area, but we're just at the start. Years from now when the industrial Internet is in full swing, big data will be really, really big, and the thirst for big data analytics solutions will be unquenchable. Meanwhile, if any bubbles burst in 2014, big data will go first.

4. Cloud integration moves to the fore. Big data has a tendency to stay where it is, with a growing number of data stores in the cloud feeding cloud-based analytics. Cloud adoption in general, particularly SaaS applications with data stores of their own, runs the risk of replaying the bad old days of the siloed organization where duplicate yet slightly different records about the same products and customers were scattered in isolated data stores (along with valuable processes that should have been shared).

The answer is twofold: cloud integration and more, better APIs. Cloud integration players abound, including Cordys, Dell Boomi, IBM Cast Iron, Informatica, Layer 7, MuleSoft, SnapLogic, and WSO2. Plus, APIs apparently have their own conference now -- along with new API solutions such as those offered by Apigee, which enable enterprises to publish and maintain their own public APIs.

5. Identity is the new security. A wild exaggeration, but the fact is that identity must now stretch to fit both on-premises and SaaS applications. Managing who has access to what -- and deprovisioning employees when they leave the company -- is becoming both more essential and more complicated. Microsoft, Okta, Salesforce, and others are rolling out solutions. Without cloud identity management, enterprises can't adopt public cloud solutions safely and effectively.

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