The recession drove much of the tech news this year, but cloud computing, virtualization and storage were among the bright spots.
The recession case a long shadow on the tech landscape in 2009, but there were some bright spots.
eWEEK Senior Writer Chris Preimesberger said virtualization technology is growing because of the demands for efficiency and for computing in the cloud.
Senior Editor Jeff Burt agrees. "The recession has ramped up interest in virtualization faster than people have expected. The adoption rate has bloomed." Burt added that there's renewed interest in desktop virtualization: "People are more anxious to take a look at it. The drive for efficiency is important. That's where you have the interest in converged data center solutions."
Preimesberger added that storage came out smelling especially rosy as cloud storage exploded: "The prices have come down, and the competition has gone up. People are buying all kinds of storage."
But Preimesberger noted that while companies are finding new and efficient ways to store their critical data, they aren't necessarily poised to recover data in the event of a disaster. "The data recovery business is very different [than storage]," he said. "Symantec did a study, and 49 percent of SMBs and SOHOs have no data backup and recovery plan."
Cloud computing was one area that shone this year. "The growth of cloud-based storage was huge," said Preimesberger, who covers the cloud, virtualization and storage for eWEEK. Preimesberger noted that cloud storage companies--including Mozy, Carbonite, Google and Amazon-"are all doing really really well."
Growing interest in the cloud meant that companies already operating in the cloud--including Google--gained significance. The cloud also sparked renewed interest in the once-simple browser, which began to take on aspects of an operating system in the cloud.
As you'd expect, the leader in operating systems wasn't about to let such a trend pass by unchallenged: Micorosoft made a big and unexpected move this year, launching the Bing search engine.
"The launch of Bing is incredibly important because it signals Microsoft's strong intention to garner serious market share in search," said eWEEK Senior Writer Clint Boulton.
Google, meanwhile, has moved to converge search and operating systems, especially for mobile devices.
"With the Chrome OS, [Google is] trying to create a lightweight Web application operating environment that will run on netbooks," said Boulton.
In addition, Google has taken aim at Microsoft and others in the mobile marketplace with the Android operating system. "The explosion of Android is a big deal," Boulton added.
Not all was clear in the cloud this year, however.
Several high-profile problems highlighted the risks inherent in cloud computing. Users of Google Apps, for example, experienced many outages this year, and the cloud-based storage for T-Mobile Sidekick users disappeared when a server failed at the cloud-based storage facility of a Microsoft subsidiary. While most of the data was eventually recovered, the loss caused concern for those who were planning to move all of their storage to the cloud.
Tough Economic Times
The recession this year hit everyone hard--even Microsoft, which experienced a declining revenue trend for the first time in its existence, said Nicholas Kolakowski, eWEEK Microsoft reporter and staff writer.
"As sales of PCs and other IT infrastructure equipment dried up, so too did sales of Microsoft products tied to that hardware," said Kolakowski. "Within that context, the launch of Windows 7 and other new products is of particular importance to Microsoft because it represents a chance for them to potentially reverse the decline and impel both businesses and consumers into an IT tech refresh."
The budget squeeze hasn't killed everything. Another bright spot this year has been sales of netbooks and smartphones.
"It's mobile PCs driving whatever growth there is, because desktop sales are by all accounts shriveling," said eWEEK Senior Writer Michelle Maisto.
A big player in the growth of mobile computing is the smartphone, Maisto said, and key to that market are Google's Android, the iPhone and the many "iPhone killers," as well as the applications for those devices.
"The playing field is jammed with phones that can surf the Web, have multiple applications open at once, connect users to applications stores, and sync contacts and calendars, in addition to supporting e-mail, IM and SMS," Maisto said.
The massive growth of smartphones has led to growth in security concerns, but there were other threats to be worried about in 2009, as well.
eWEEK Staff Writer Brian Prince noted the emergence of the first iPhone worms, as well as new threats from malware being delivered using social networks.
Malware in general was a growth area in 2009.
"The three big botnets--Z-bot, Pushdo and Bredo--are hitting us pretty hard right now," said Fred Touchette, senior security analyst at AppRiver. "These are professionals on the other end writing these pieces of malware."
Both Prince and Touchette said that the emergence of the Conficker worm was a huge security event this year because of the ease with which it spread. Fortunately, the worm hasn't as yet carried a destructive payload.
With all that said, the security industry remained relatively unscathed during the down times this year.
"The security industry was impacted by shrinking budgets in 2009," Prince said. "But anecdotal evidence suggests it was not affected to the same extent as other areas of IT. This is probably because we live in an age of data breaches and high-profile compromises."
The Feds Take Notice
The government notably stepped into several technology areas this year.
Congress, as well as the FCC, expressed concern about the high cost of early cell phone contract termination and held hearings on the subject. Most wireless companies responded with plans to phase out such termination fees. Verizon Wireless, however, first announced such a drop, then a few months later announced that it would be doubling those fees, attracting outrage from some in Congress.
Also attracting attention from the federal government were a number of mergers in the technology industry. HP, for example, has announced that it wants to buy 3Com, probably as a result of the Cisco unified communications initiative. And, earlier this year, Oracle acquired Sun, a move that is still under scrutiny.
"In our industry, a lot is about consolidation," said Paul McMillan, director of UC Technical Vision and Strategy for Siemens. "We started consolidation with Avaya getting bought, and Nortel going on the block," he said. "The battle lines are being drawn up between larger players. I see a trend of companies that have an application focus partnering with companies that have a communications platform or UC function."
Fortunately, the worst may be over. Stock prices are rising, which gives companies additional capital with which to start buying IT products again. This will hopefully lead to a rise in IT employment, although, in some areas, it's been growing all along.
Dion Lim, president and CEO of SimplyHired.com, a job search engine that also tracks employment trends, said some areas in IT have already shown significant growth in parallel with their growth in the market. These include green tech, cloud computing and virtualization . For example, he said, "cloud computing went from 10,000 people to 18,000 people."
Lim added that the trend in hiring is an indication that new technologies will lead the way to job growth as the recession eases. "New software requires better hardware. Something like the iPhone generates an entirely new genre of jobs," he said. "We're seeing new jobs that companies want to fill."
eWEEK Labs Contributing Analyst Wayne Rash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.