NSA Cyber-Spying Scandal, Cloud Adoption Among Top 2013 IT Trends

NEWS ANALYSIS: The National Security Agency's hacks of top corporate networks and the broad adoption of cloud computing are among my picks for the top enterprise IT trends of 2013.

What were the top 10 events, trends, and technologies that changed the enterprise in 2013? While there are lots of candidates, I picked the top one which I think had the greatest impact.

Here are my first five trends. I’ll be adding the final five in a later blog and then sorting them out in a 1 to 10 ranking.

The NSA cyber-spying scandal: When the National Security Agency domestic cyber-spying scandal first started to unfold last June it was unclear that the snooping would reach out and touch the world's top technology vendors. Rather it seemed at first as if the snooping was all about telecom intercepts.

When I sat through the first public appearance of National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander at the Black Hat show in Las Vegas, the presentation was all about program limits, containment and secret courts upholding the public’s concern.

However, as the scandal that emerged from some of the many secret documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden reached beyond phone intercepts to hacks into Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and who knows how many others, it seemed inevitable that the NSA cloud would soon rain on the technology vendors. That is just starting now as vendors such as Cisco are expressing uncertainty on the future of international business in an era of apparently boundless government cyber-spying.

Meanwhile, across the tech landscape security is being tightened, encryption will be the default for data transmissions as Google, Facebook, Amazon and others build out their private fiber networks. This is all happening as the social networks continue to mine the public’s profiles, likes and activities for sales. The tech industry once thought it lived outside the government policy fray and now finds itself neck deep.

The embrace of all things cloud: Amazon Web Services, once the outlier of a new method of corporate computing, is now the model for cloud computing. IBM, Microsoft, VMWare and every vendor that can pack a data center full of servers is championing their version of cloud computing.

This year marked the change from CIOs and corporate execs holding off on adopting a cloud strategy due to concerns over compliance, privacy and security to weighing the merits of private, hybrid and public cloud infrastructures. The change in cloud attitudes was driven by several factors including government agencies (the Central Intelligence Agency is the prime example) embracing cloud computing; big stock market winners such as Netflix basing their infrastructure on the cloud; and CEOs still wary from the recent financial meltdowns, figuring it was better to rent infrastructure than buy it.

The rise of smartphones and the rapid decline of PCs: The personal computer will be around for a long time but its role as a central focus for personal and business computing crashed in 2013. The smartphone in all its varieties designed for mobility and equipped with sensors for location and movement has permanently pushed aside the personal computer. The Bring Your Own Device movement that gained momentum in 2010 was full cry in 2013.

Great (Big Data) expectations: Big data was all the big rage in 2013. The big data term overshadowed the value that could be derived from bringing new data streams into your company. The idea that a retailer or manufacturer could tap into demographic, social media, sensor and economic trend data to fine tune their business is the big idea.

But the concept is so overpowering that CIOs and CTOs often don’t know where to start. While big data became the buzzword in 2013, the next step will be for technology vendors to convince small and midsize businesses as well as non-profits that big data isn’t just for the big companies with huge data analytics budgets.

Software-defined hardware: Software-defined networks, software-defined data centers and software-defined storage were only three of the technology sectors gaining the software-defined moniker in 2013. The idea that you can use system software overlaid on commodity hardware to duplicate and exceed the capabilities of traditional tightly integrated and proprietary IT infrastructure is compelling.

While the traditional technology vendors first treated the rise of software-defined everything as an idea they hoped to usurp by simply sticking software-defined in front of their repackaged hardware, those vendors have now signed on to what is truly a customer-driven corporate technology revolution.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor-in-chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008 authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.