Tech tremors: 5 bumps to brace for in the year ahead

If you thought 2015 was full of tossing and turning, wait until 2016 hits

After a tumultuous 2015 in tech, 2016 promises to be much the same. The past year opened with wrangling over Net neutrality, and it closed with wrangling over encryption backdoors. There were some highs: The FCC voted to protect the Internet from the big ISPs, and the would-be disaster of a Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger was averted.

And there were many lows: the massive Office of Personnel Management data breach, the Ashley Madison hack, Lenovo and Dell putting users at risk, the slippery return of CISA and unfettered government surveillance....

It was a year of triumphs and tumbles. Don't expect 2016 to be any less contentious and eventful. Here are five things we might expect to see in the next 12 months.

Tech tremor No. 1: As big ISPs ramp up their bullying, more pockets of responsible Internet service will appear

In the wake of the FCC's strict Net neutrality regulations in 2015, the big ISPs seem hell bent on proving to the world that they are irresponsible monopolies. They will double down on the shenanigans in 2016, possibly in an attempt to squeeze every last cent out of their captive customer base before the inevitable happens and they are either forced to compete for customers, or they become regulated utilities. Expect more news about data caps, poor customer service, predatory rate changes, mythic service offerings, and the rest of the panoply of borderline-legal games they have become synonymous with.

On the flip side, expect to hear more about community Internet service providers delivering high bandwidth for reasonable prices. Expect more states and communities to overturn egregious laws that prevent municipal broadband projects from moving forward. Expect Google Fiber to continue to expand.

Tech tremor No. 2: We'll finally reach the tipping point for broadcast content

Though Netflix and others have been streaming content for many years, 2016 might be the year when streaming finally becomes the leading delivery method, not broadcast services. A few signs point in this direction, such as the preponderance of ads for streaming devices such as the AppleTV, Google Chromecast, and the Amazon Fire TV. These streaming devices blow the doors off anything built into a "smart" TV, and they are available for $99 or less. Thus, this Christmas season could very well produce a large surge in the use of streaming services.

Couple that with increased attention from major entertainment sources  -- such as the NFL streaming games over the Internet (officially) for the first time, and Major League Baseball planning to stream games in 15 markets -- and the reasons to pay exorbitant rates for broadcast television with endless commercial breaks, lackluster content, vast wastelands of channels you never watch, and crappy DVR services is eroding fast. Even the cable companies are acknowledging that the days of reaping huge profits for delivering spoon-fed content are coming to an end. It can't happen soon enough.

Of course, this will not be all wine and roses. Although à la carte television content may finally be approaching mainstream, the infrastructure behind it may not be up to the task in some cases.

Tech tremor No. 3: The quixotic battle for backdoors in encryption will escalate

As the United States enters the theater of the absurd we call a presidential election year, expect the senseless trumpeting of the "dangers" of encryption to increase. For politicians with no moral compass and dollar signs in their eyes, the very term "encryption" has become a handy lever to frighten people who have no grasp of the concept. If we see more unrest around the world, no matter how major or minor, the bleating will increase. Encryption will become the Willie Horton of the 2016 presidential race.

I strongly believe that all of this noise will amount to nothing, however, mostly because the alternative is absolute chaos and anarchy. Not only that, I expect Let's Encrypt will see rapid expansion and other encryption services will join the ranks. We'll begin seeing SSL/TLS communications used as freely as unencrypted communications have been.

Tech tremor No. 4: We may see the first major outage of a major cloud service provider

We are spinning up cloud services at a blistering rate these days. More people are using more cloud services than ever before, and most of those services are based in the data centers of only a handful of providers. We have seen significant outages at AWS recently, but the rapid growth of cloud services and the avalanche of users hitting those services following a major world event could potentially bring traffic and requests at an unprecedented scale.

Before the shift to the cloud, service outages were much more compartmentalized than they are now, because many companies either self-hosted or used their own hardware at colocation facilities, in effect providing an unintentional safeguard against massive outages. Now that we're spinning up service instances at a whim and sharing the infrastructure of a few large providers, the right set of circumstances could produce an overwhelming tide. It would probably take a truly massive news event for this to happen, but it's certainly a possibility.

Tech tremor No. 5: Corporate data centers will continue to shrink

For better or worse, the general migration to cloud computing will continue to deplete the corporate data center. SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS are only becoming more attractive as they scale, and companies more trusting of these services as time wears on. That trust may not be altogether misplaced today, but these services are still a greater liability than many might realize. The cracks begin to show through when corporate business decisions are modified due to limitations or requirements of hosted services, but the full picture has yet to be painted. In the interim, the lure of hosted services with no maintenance overhead is growing, even if many of them aren't fully baked yet.

The erstwhile directory, file, and print services aren't exiting private data centers anytime soon, and there are still a surprising number of companies nursing AS/400 and other legacy beasts. However, new development is generally not requisitioning racks of new servers -- they're requisitioning expensive accounts at service providers.

If we know one thing, the past several years have accelerated technology innovation beyond even the wildest expectations, driven primarily by the rapid development in mobile computing. This is now driving everything else before it, and it's not slowing down. We may hear more about the Internet of things in 2016, but I don't think that will blow open for a few more years yet.

One thing is for sure: 2015 was a big year, and 2016 will be bigger.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.