The biggest technology industry story of 2008 had nothing to do with the latest microprocessors, search engines or Microsoft Windows. It was the sharp decline of the global economy, which has forced enterprises to take a hard look at IT budgets and capital spending plans.
The IT industry, perhaps more than any other, is reliant on new growth.
In the ferocious race to win the title "new"-and to hang on to that title the next day and the next-major and minor events jockey for position and perspective in our collective minds. Staring at any one of them might cause you to lose sight of the forest for the trees.
What follows are the groves of enterprise stories we've deemed most significant to the enterprise in 2008-with the economy casting a shadow that is sure to extend well into 2009.
The economy is casting a pall over IT budgets, but there could be light at the end of next year. Read more here.
1. Trickle-Down Pain
The most significant enterprise IT story in 2008 was not a technology story at all. What began two years ago as a correction in inflated real estate values in isolated parts of the country roared into IT departments nationwide this year, as an economy spiraling downward forced businesses to do more with less and/or craft slick solutions to difficult tasks.
The headlines recounting the nation's descent into a recession (declared officially Dec. 1) rarely mentioned technology by name, but the effects have been felt hard in the industry. Tech stalwarts saw their market caps plummet (Google, for example, down more than 62 percent from its high of $228 billion) and share prices stumble (Sun Microsystems down 85 percent, to near $3).
And, as the year draws to a close, many companies have been forced to shed employees by the thousands. IT departments themselves have been shrunk, right at the time when they have been tasked with shutting down myriad accounts and consolidating divergent systems.
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Budgets are frozen or shrinking, and IT is being asked to patch the old code, customize what's already in place and keep the hardware going another year. As 2009 dawns, it's clear that the economy will remain the primary concern of IT.
2. The Cloud Lands
"Cloud computing" is nothing new. You can find its roots in time-sharing, grid computing, on demand, SAAS (software as a service) and hosted services. But 2008 marked the cloud's extension to mission-critical elements such as storage and security, and general enterprise acceptance.
Google and Microsoft grabbed headlines as they battled, successfully, for customers of their Google Apps and Microsoft Office Live productivity applications, respectively.
Web Services is generally considered the quintessential cloud offering. The company's EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) for application development and S3 (Simple Storage Service) both serve up a Web interface and invite the customer to pay for what's used via credit card.
In August, Amazon enhanced EC2 with EBS (Elastic Block Storage), which enables storage to persist after an EC2 instance is terminated. And Amazon augmented S3 with SimpleDB, Simple Queue Service, Flexible Payments Service and Mechanical Turk, a service now in beta that provides an on-demand work force.
Amazon is far from alone. Search engine giant Google offers Google App Engine, a cloud-based platform for application development. In the United Kingdom, hosting provider XCalibre Communications is serving up FlexiScale, which offers users a self-service virtual dedicated server on the Web.
IBM began its Blue Cloud initiative at a software park in Wuxi, China, 2 hours west of Shanghai. IBM provided technology, including System x and System p servers, on a secure VLAN (virtual LAN) for the center, which is run by the Chinese government and will serve as a cloud-computing resource for software companies operating in the park. Similar projects are under way in Beijing; Dublin, Ireland; and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Security vendors are selling malware in the cloud, and even EMC came out with Atmos, a combination of software and industry-standard x86 server hardware that can result in a multipetabyte, enterprise-level cloud storage infrastructure.