The start of the second decade of the 21st century found a world with an economy frozen in the depths of recession, with tech companies struggling to stay afloat, and with the IT business facing too much supply and not enough demand. But even as the snows of the east melted, products and technologies that had started to stir in the previous year were now shaking themselves free of recession’s icy grip and beginning to bloom.
Perhaps the biggest of the year’s surprises was Android. “I think the biggest story of the year is the explosive growth of Google Android market share in the smartphone market,” said eWEEK’s John Pallatto, managing editor for news on the West Coast. “It went from virtually a standing start in late 2009 to a 19 percent market share in the third quarter of 2010.”
Android, Google’s mobile operating system, is loosely based on Linux and Java, and is also notable for being largely cloud based. Many of the core Google apps are cloud apps that depend on a high-speed link to Google’s servers.
The dramatic growth of Android was part of a larger movement involving the consumerization of information technology. In addition to the ubiquitous Android devices, there were iPads, iPhones and other personal devices creating challenges for the IT department, which needed to support these devices while also maintaining the security of the enterprise.
“Gartner said smartphones grew 96 percent this year,” said Michelle Maisto, an eWEEK senior writer who covers wireless as one of her beats. “Prices are getting lower, and that puts pressure on the carriers to get 4G networks running.”
Maisto agreed that the rise of Android has been a huge event this year. “It leapt over the iPhone and RIM,” she pointed out. “It’s up to 25 to 26 percent market share, and a year ago no one could have predicted that. For that to have happened so fast is interesting, especially in the bad economy.”
Maisto also noted that the wireless industry was showing strong growth in all areas. She noted that in addition to smartphones, there was a similar explosion in tablet use.
“Everyone is falling behind Apple,” Maisto said. “I’m skeptical: I’m not sure there’s any huge need for tablets, and I don’t know what people are actually doing with them.”
Adopting Cloud Technology
But not everything involved consumer electronics. “The thing that stands out to me is this continued move to cloud computing,” said Jason Brooks, editor in chief of eWEEK Labs. “It seems like almost every large IT vendor is pushing this.”
“I think about how enthusiastically Microsoft has embraced the cloud,” Brooks noted. “The company has so many investments in computing: It has embraced the cloud on its server products and on the desktop. A product like Small Business Server is as on-premises as you can get, but now there’s a version hosted by Microsoft. There’s a lot of suspicion about cloud hype, but Microsoft is talking about being -all in’ on the cloud.”
“People understand the cloud better,” noted Chris Preimesberger, an eWEEK senior writer who covers cloud computing. “It’s taken a couple of years, but people are implementing this.”
Novell’s director of data center management, Ben Grubin, agreed. “I think what we’ve seen is a tectonic shift where we’ve come out of the cloud as a hype vehicle to a delivery mechanism for IT,” he said.
Right now, because of security and control concerns about the public cloud, much of the activity has been on building private clouds, Preimesberger said. “I think that private clouds are where all the big system vendors are casting their lot,” he noted. “They all want to build you a private cloud. It’s just a data center with a different type of firewall, and you can add in outside services if you need them.”
The growth of private clouds means there are now private cloud servers for businesses of all sizes, Preimesberger said. Novell’s Grubin added that for smaller businesses, this will probably mean a move to Microsoft’s Hyper-V since the licensing terms are very attractive. “By June, Microsoft was up to 24 percent market share,” he said.
Preimesberger said that the importance of cloud computing had a great deal to do with Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems. “Oracle is now the fourth big systems vendor along with IBM, HP and Cisco,” he said. “When it comes to clouds, it’s going to include Oracle and Sun.”
While cloud computing and storage are playing big roles in the IT department, they are also factors in smaller companies, and, in some cases, they are helping erase the lines between consumer products and IT products.
Brooks noted that though cloud computing is very much an IT issue, it does tie into the new consumer products making their way into the enterprise. He mentioned Microsoft’s new push into cloud computing, an initiative that includes support for Firefox and Safari browsers in addition to Internet Explorer, indicating the role of consumer platforms such as Apple’s iOS in prompting Microsoft’s more inclusive approach.
“Microsoft has sought to control the client, but what happens when your customers want to choose something else?” Brooks asked. “Now that there are strong client alternatives, it’s more important for vendors to keep customer options flexible. Apple has really forced the issue.”
Creating new risks
Those client platforms, the iPhone and the iPad, are part of the broader move of consumer electronics into the enterprise. While this move can add new capabilities to the enterprise, there also create new risks.
“This is a bit of bad news security-wise,” said Amit Klein, CTO of Trusteer. “You’re losing control over malicious software and threats that become relevant in this scenario.” He noted that consumer devices such as USB memory sticks are major players in Zeus and Stuxnet infestations.
But even considering those risks, the move to embrace consumer devices that do things you can’t accomplish otherwise is very strong. “We’re issuing iPads to our entire sales team in the United States,” said Lincoln Cannon, director of Web systems at Merit Medical Systems.
“We’re already looking for applications that will work with iPads-even offline.” He said his staff is working on custom applications that would do exactly what he wants, even if the iPad can’t connect to the Internet.
Cannon believes that tying iPads to the cloud makes sense because of the nature of his business, and he expects it to have a positive impact on the bottom line. “We’ve been polling our sales reps on the cloud applications,” he said, “and we will poll them on the iPad rollout. Then we’ll get an idea on the impact of these new tools.”
Lori Wizdo, vice president of marketing at Knoa Software, said the move to embrace consumer products shouldn’t surprise anyone. “We’re finding that consumer products are slipping into the corporate world because they’re better,” she said. “People use these tools because they want to do their job better.
Wizdo pointed out that the goal of most people is to find ways to get their work done as well and as fast as they can, using whatever tools are at hand. She says that with rapid innovation, consumer tools are frequently the ones that work best, adding, “All innovation starts with individuals.”
Ultimately, according to Wizdo, it’s the vanishing line between consumer and IT products-and between centralized and cloud- based operations- that’s leading the way to innovation and growth this year.
Wayne Rash is an eWEEK contributing analyst and veteran industry journalist..