O nine! What will the next 12 months bring? Which new or not-so-new technologies will break through? And what should IT managers be doing about it? We got out our crystal ball, and also asked other seers for ideas. Here for your edification: a round half-dozen of technologies to watch. If we’re right, 2009 might be a little bit Back to the Future. Integrating the cloudCloud computing – using online resources including software as a service (SaaS), Internet storage and collaboration tools – isn’t new. In fact, as Andy Woyzbun, lead analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Inc., points out, SaaS is really a throw-back to the “service bureaus” of 1960s-era computing.While modern cloud computing has caught on with small, young, nimble companies, it may also now begin to have an impact in the enterprise, if for no other reasons than the financial – low or no capital and zero IT management costs: attractive features in tough times.But simply deciding to take advantage of the cost benefits of cloud computing is only the first step, Woyzbun says. How do you then integrate the cloud with what you already have?Example. Pushing aspects of payroll out into the cloud – e.g. time and attendance – makes sense. But you will still want to maintain an internal HR system to track and manage sensitive information about pay rates and other contract details you can’t risk out in the ether.“It isn’t about all or nothing – the cloud supplanting internal applications,” Woyzbun says. “It’s about using both. But if you use the cloud, you have to figure how to get the two to talk to each other.”It’s partly a challenge for vendors and many are rising to it. SalesForce.com, the pioneering SaaS CRM product, for example, created links to Microsoft Outlook and Exchange and provides tools for integrating other internal applications. But while a few vendors let you view online storage in Windows alongside local drives, most don’t.“If you pick a vendor in the cloud,” Woyzbun says, “you’ve got to figure out their level of commitment to mutual coexistence . Think of them as pieces of the overall jigsaw puzzle of your computing environment.”The other implication: service oriented architecture (SOA) – developing software as semi-discrete interlinked services – becomes all the more important. In the future, the cloud will offer services you can link to internal services to create integrated applications, but only if you develop using SOA principles.Mobilizing forcesTwo trends are converging to make 2009 – finally – the year of enterprise mobile data. The first is the maturing of broadband HSPA mobile data networks. The second: the emergence of a new class of mobile middleware provider that, according to Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president of enterprise research at Yankee Group, will do for other enterprise applications what BlackBerry did for e-mail.Ubiquitous HSPA is important because it’s a key enabler of mobile computing. But it’s also clear now that HSPA, followed by LTE (Long Term Evolution), will become a single global standard for carriers. Even CDMA players such as Bell are committing to HSPA and LTE. Removing the “irritant” of incompatible mobile standards will release pent up demand in enterprises for wireless data applications, says Lawrence Surtees, vice president and principal analyst for communications research at IDC Canada Ltd. But companies need to think about the implications of that emerging global standard. “It may help to dictate timing of initiatives,” Surtees says. “Or your choice of providers.”If you want to act now, it makes sense to choose a provider with an HSPA network – read, Rogers Communications Inc. – because that’s the way the world is going. Bell Canada Enterprises and Telus Corp. customers? You might want to wait until those carriers build HSPA networks so you don’t have to change suppliers, and possibly hundreds or thousands of non-data mobile devices.Meanwhile, companies like Antenna Software and Dexterra Inc. are offering better alternatives to simply shrinking desktop applications onto handheld devices. What’s wrong with the shrink-down approach – it’s what Microsoft Corp. advocates, after all? “The user experience is terrible,” Kerravala says. “And you don’t need every feature in the mobile environment. I don’t think it will be Microsoft and SAP that create the enterprise mobile apps of the future.” Antenna and Dexterra are building mobile-centric solutions – CRM, field service, asset management, etc. – that integrate with legacy systems. Just as BlackBerry built mobile-centric e-mail that integrates with Exchange and Notes. And that worked pretty well.Second fiddle no longerWi-Fi? Old news, right? Maybe not. Kerravala says 2009 will be the year Wi-Fi really comes into its own, as companies begin to use it not just as a supplemental technology, grudgingly deployed for the convenience of users, but as their primary network.Why 2009? Because the IEEE will ratify the 802.11n standard in 2009.Wi-Fi 11n delivers network speeds that rival Fast Ethernet (100 megabits per second), still the standard in many organizations despite Gigabit Ethernet. That coupled with 11n’s superior range and capacity means “the performance difference between wired and wireless is now negligible,” Kerravala says.Enterprise equipment vendors are also now offering central wireless controllers that provide the manageability IT managers expect and demand from wired networks. And Wi-Fi’s security vulnerabilities are largely a thing of the past.But wait, hasn’t Wi-Fi 11n gear been available for months? All the equipment out there today, Kerravala points out, is “pre-standard,” and many enterprises will prefer to wait for an official stamp of approval – even if draft-N gear will be software upgradeable to the standard. So ratification, he believes, will be “a tipping point.” Why would companies want to go all-wireless, including for VoIP? (Probable exceptions: servers, network attached storage.) The benefits include cost savings, improved productivity and support for locationing and tracking applications. Companies can save millions on Ethernet port upgrades by going wireless, Kerravala says. Some can save hefty labour costs associated with pulling cable. Vendors say going all-wireless also drives down IT management costs around moves, adds and changes – especially important in companies adopting hoteling strategies. And then there are the productivity benefits. Microsoft employees believe their campus-wide WLAN saves them as much as five hours a week. Proponents also argue wireless fosters a culture of non-procrastination. Employees have nowhere to hide and no excuse for not being accessible, which makes them more responsive.The netbook: just rightSecond-tier PC brands like Asus (ASUSTeK Computer Inc.) and Acer Inc. pioneered the category. Now Dell Inc. has jumped in and Microsoft, on the defensive, is sniffing around. The netbook – smaller than ultra-light laptops, bigger than an iPhone – will take off in 09, Woyzbun believes, becoming the first choice for many highly mobile workers. The prototypical example is the Asus EEE PC 4G, a device originally intended for children. It weighs less than a kilogram, features a seven-inch LCD, an undersized but just touch type-able keyboard and 4 gigabytes of solid state storage. It offers Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity – look for 3G connectivity soon – and boasts decent battery life: up to 3.5 hours.Like most netbooks, the EEE PC runs Linux and comes with a boatload of apps, including most that mobile workers need: e-mail, personal information management, Web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations – as well as extras such as pre-loaded Skype and music/video players. Price: under $500. The iPhone and other Net-connected PDAs may be fine for e-mail, Woyzbun says, but for other business apps, not so much. Web browsing, for example, is difficult because you either view pages in zoom mode or with tiny, tiny text – either way it’s tough to find links unless you know where on the page to look.“And at the other extreme,” Woyzbun says, “laptops are just too darn heavy.” Netbooks on the other hand are small and light enough to stow in a purse or small bag, but let you do everything you can do on a laptop. With the culture of mobility taking even firmer hold in the enterprise as Net-geners enter the work force, the netbook may be key to maximizing mobile productivity. In the UK, Woyzbun points out, it’s already the fastest-growing computer category. Microsoft, meanwhile, disturbed that netbook makers are opting for the smaller footprint of Linux, is contemplating a netbook-friendly lite version of Vista. “If Microsoft is paying attention,” Woyzbun says, “it’s an area of interest.”Moving pictures“I really don’t want to say 2009 will be the year of business video,” Yankee Group’s Kerravala says. You can almost hear the cringe in his voice. “It’s been said so often and it’s always fallen flat on its face. But there is a difference this time.”We agree. Video, for conferencing, webcasting and signage, really does appear at a tipping point. Kerravala is apologetic again about his reason for thinking so – “It’s such a cliché to say there’s a perfect storm out there,” he says. But that’s what it is.The traditional travel savings case for video conferencing may not have been entirely convincing in the past, but a worsening economic situation and escalating air travel costs mean many companies really are starting to turn to video conferencing to save money, Kerravala says – and also to reduce productivity losses associated with travel, especially among high-priced help. Just as important, possibly more, is the green factor. “A lot of companies want to do things that look green,” he says. “As much for show as anything sometimes, whether it actually does anything or not.” Using video conferencing instead of sending employees flying off in all directions really might help reduce carbon emissions.And then there’s the huge improvements in business video technology – pushed along in part by very high-end conferencing solutions such as Cisco System Corp.’s TelePresence and Hewlett-Packard’s Halo. Even affordable conferencing systems today deliver excellent quality audio and video. They’re also easier to set up and use. Employees who in the past found video conferencing more hassle than it was worth are willing to use it now. Finally, throw in the fact that widely distributed work forces have become commonplace – because of a green-driven trend to telework and global consolidation among other reasons. The result, Kerravala says, is that “collaboration has become a big theme for a lot of companies.” And video conferencing is one among several technologies that are crucial for effective collaboration.So what do you have? Yup. Perfect storm. Social benefitsA theme we’ve harped on in the past is the blurring between business and personal computing and communication – and the implications for IT managers. The trend will continue in 09. In particular, Woyzbun says, more companies will embrace social computing. Or they certainly should, he argues.The notion of using business-specific social computing tools such as LinkedIn, an online community for business networking (in the non-technical sense) is a no-brainer and old hat. Ditto for using tools such as wikis and blogs for internal collaboration and communication. But some progressive firms are also starting to catch on to the idea of using consumer social networking tools such as YouTube and FaceBook to promote their businesses and engage customers and prospective customers. “So you might try to stimulate discussion among customers about the direction they think your company should take through a FaceBook or MySpace page,” Woyzbun says. One non-profit repertory cinema in Toronto, for example, uses a FaceBook page to solicit programming suggestions from regular patrons.“It can be an opportunity, for relatively little money and effort, other than the labour you put into reading and responding, to get a lot of broad input,” Woyzbun says. “If you’re prepared to listen to it.”It’s also an opportunity, he says, to leverage free tools and services – never a bad idea in tight economic times – and piggy-back on skills and proclivities employees bring to the business from their personal lives. That may be a scary proposition for a lot of companies and IT managers. One concern will be that employees might waste time talking to friends on FaceBook or watching YouTube videos while claiming to be working.“I think the first thing you have to do is move from a control first mindset to a how-can-I-harness-this-technology mindset,” Woyzbun says. Don’t block use of such tools: let employees find creative ways to exploit them. Many IT managers are older and may not be familiar with social computing tools, he points out. So as a first step: educate yourself. Maybe ask your kids. “And start thinking of this as an opportunity rather than a challenge.”To infinity and beyondDisappointed? Think we’d talk about nano-technology or how robots will take over the world? Or the emergence of Terabit networking? Hey, we thought about it. Such lists are always arbitrary and subjective. We could of course have substituted any number of other possibly-maybe about-to-break-through technologies. Green IT anyone. Smart radio antennas. 3D plasma screens. (Seriously, think about the implications for computer-based training.) Other near misses? The new breed of virtual desktop solutions, such as Citrix Zen Desktop, that let you compute anywhere, anytime as if you were in the office, without leaving your workstation turned on. The intersection of file virtualization and deduplication solutions that will create optimally efficient distributed storage arrays.But what will 09 really bring? Mostly, we’re guessing, more of the same.