December 31, 2008

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The Disruptive Power of Netbooks The idea of light-weight, low-cost, but very powerful laptops designed for a smaller feature set than traditional laptops has been around for a decade or so. But all indications are that something has changed in the market place. Due to a convergence of many factors, netbooks are growing in sales. These factors include the continual improvement in wireless speeds, the more widespread availability of wifi, the continued drop in cost of hardware, the continued increase in performance of open source operating systems and open source applications, the unstoppable move to more thin-client solutions, and the dramatically increased capabilities of cloud computing services (including the entire web2.0 megatrend and of course the continued innovations of Google in the cloud computing and online applications space). I just did a few searches on Amazon and Bestbuy for netbooks devices, and pulled up entries for small notebooks like the Acer Aspire One, an 8.9-inch mini laptop that runs Linux Lite and sells for under $300.00. It has plenty of capability and is very lightweight. It comes loaded with applications, including open source office automation packages (I think I would want to download the most recent version of open office if I purchased this). It also comes with a built in camera and is ready for high end video chat. Will I buy one? There are clearly some of these in my future, I just don't know when. I have a MacBook and I really like it for everything I need in a laptop. I use it around the house and on travel. And, although it is over a year old now, it doesn't need replacement. When it does, however, I'm going to be asking myself why I would want to pay $1000 more for a Mac instead of a couple hundered for a Netbook. So much of what I do I do on the cloud anyway, and the many things I do locally can be done using the free Open Office. If we assume the same sort of trades are being considered by other buyers, a conclusion starts to emerge. Netbooks are going to be a very disruptive force in the market. And what is the market saying so far about this trend? Acer is reporting huge success with their netbooks approach, their sales have been growing significantly. They just reported a 78.8 percent growth rate over the same quarter in 2007. And this is during a huge market downturn. HP and Dell are reporting unit sales growth of 13.5 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively. Apple is just about flat. If you are an enterprise CTO, what should you do with this information? For one, you should consider how to use laptops/netbooks like these in your organization. If done right, you can enhance the security of your enterprise by moving more of your data and applications to secure clouds, and you can also add security features to your netbooks and field a significant enhancement to your security posture. And, since the cost of these devices is far less than traditional laptops you can equip more of your workforce and save money at the same time, which is a very virtuous thing in this economic environment. Note: I've previously written about several devices that qualify as netbooks, including: Thin Client Laptops: Functionality, Security, Mobility A review of high end, enterprise quality wireless stateless thin clients using the Sun Microsystems approach; and The Future Is Changing Again A review of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. I also recommend a recent article at Economist.com called Small is Beautiful. And, thanks to a friend on Twitter, I just got pointed to a post at GigaOm titled: Why Netbooks are Greener Than Laptops
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A look ahead: Some technology developments to expect in 2009 2008 was a year of rapid changes for Chief Technology Officers. We should expect 2009 to move even faster. Where will the biggest trends take us? I offer some considerations below. Please look these over and give me your thoughts. Push back if you have disagreement. First, my overall advice for CTOs in 2009... Just like the new thin interfaces you will be testing in your lab... be flexible. Now here are some more thoughts on what's in store for CTO s in 2009: Here is a no-brainer: Increasingly CTOs will leverage social media to collaborate. Things are moving so fast that we all like to network to seek help on big things and to get advanced warning on what is coming next. More of us will be on Twitter, in Facebook, and writing blogs. And this is a good thing. "Mashups" will still be very important as an enterprise objective in 2009 (and beyond). And the company that will help accelerate them into the federal enterprise is JackBe. They do things in a way that enterprise CTO s like. They build in connections to governance, security, identity management. And they play well with the entire ecosystem so you don't have to rework all legacy just to use them. Of course web2.0 will remain a key trend, but mashups takes web2.0 to a new, more mission-oriented level and for enterprise players the mission is what is important. An approach we will all learn to love and follow is "context accumulation". This very important term was coined by Jeff Jonas, and I think Jeff is going to have all of us moving out on that in the next 12 months. If you agree, visit his blog and by all means help others understand why this is really the only way we humans stand a chance of surviving/thriving in the onslaught of data. Federal acquisition of IT will still be criticized for all the reasons it always has been. But there will also be an acceleration of a dramatic positive change brought about because of open source software and a new appreciation that IT acquisition processes (RFI/RFP/FAR/DFAR based purchases) do not apply to software that is free. Free software is not being bought, it is being used, for free. The whole reason the FAR exists is to ensure when the taxpayer's money gets spent it gets spent wisely. When things are free the FAR has less applicability. Services for open source are being bought and since that uses government money of course the taxpayers will continued to be served by the same FAR-type processes that are meant to ensure open competition, but that is not for free open source software, that is for services to configure and manage the software. Will this be the year of enterprise security? We have been banking on that for a long long time. We know the answers on how to make enterprises more secure. There is a great recap of some of the most important components of security in the CSIS report. But there are many more things that can be done as well. My goal, as captured here, is to improve security by two orders of magnitude within the next 24 months. Netbooks, Thin Clients and Cloud Computing will accelerate throughout the technology landscape, especially inside the federal government. These trends in both devices and the cloud components are directly related and are also benefiting from the global, unstoppable trend toward open computing (open software and open standards). One to watch in this area: Sun Microsystems. But also track the dynamics of the netbooks providers. Dell will get serious about netbooks, but Acer will continue to grow market share. A key accelerator of Cloud Computing has been the powerful technologies of virtualization, especially those of VMware. Open source and other virtualization capabilities are coming fast too. Trend to watch in 2009 is the arrival of higher order, more elagant capabilities to manage virtualizaiton accross large enterprises. VMware and Opsware (HP) will continue to evolve to do this, but Appistry, Vizioncore, Xsigo and Sun (and others?) are coming fast. Increasingly leaders will recognize that concepts of operation that require humans to tag and create metadata are sub-optimized. When busy people are tasked with burdensome tagging operations they too frequently become tempted to cut corners and rush the process. Over time, meta data generated this way just becomes meta crap. This growing recognition in the federal space will sweep in new technologies and new approaches to discovery of content. One to watch to solve this issue: Endeca, because of their approach to visualizing information and enabling human to computer iterative examination of data. Flexible computers will arrive in production this year for early adopters and many CTOs will use them in labs to assess applicability for massive deployment in the coming years. These flexible computers are the ultimate thin clients. Backends/servers/architectures developed for the cloud perfectly suit ultra thin, flexible computing devices. For more on this hot topic, start at the site of the Flexible Display Center at ASU. Collaboration will increasingly be seen as the means to link human brains together. Collaboration tools that are stand alone stovepipes will be a thing of the past. Users will collaborate using the entire technology environment: voice, video, data, whiteboard, chat, application sharing, info discovery will increasingly be integrated into a single fabric. Key players here: Adobe, Microsoft and...