CXO

10 tech topics IT leaders should stay on top of

What should business and IT executives be focusing on in the months ahead? These 10 critical areas are high on the list.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/STEEX

At the Interop conference in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, I noticed some strong trends in the topics covered. As a matter of fact, most of the topics fit into a dozen or so categories. Here are 10 hot topics that are clearly on the minds of business and IT leaders.

1: Software-defined networking

Software-defined networking (SDN) was, by far, the biggest topic discussed at Interop this year. It seemed like a full 25% of the sessions were focused around this topic. SDN is a set of management tools that enables you to virtualize your network infrastructure to a point where the individual switches and routers don't matter. It is, effectively, a layer on top of the existing physical equipment that becomes the physical layer that the servers see.

However, there was some disagreement over exactly how this should and does work. During the SDN Keynote Panel, for instance, the panelists argued over even the definition of software-defined networking: Is it just the virtualization of hardware or is it the next level -- the ability to rapidly scale and change the architecture using automated tools? As this is a new topic (VMware coined the term in a whitepaper just last year), I expect that better information and resources will be forthcoming.

2: Software-defined data centers

Along with software-defined networking, a host of other "software-defined" terms were mentioned, including software-defined data centers (SDDC). This topic was even more vague than SDN (in terms of an actual definition), but the focus was on using SDN along with existing hypervisors and other technologies to evolve traditional data centers into private cloud architectures.

3: Cloud

The cloud has been a topic for a number of years all around the IT blogosphere, so it should not come as a shock that it was a topic of focus at Interop. From private clouds to public clouds, several sessions highlighted the benefits and advantages as well as problems and drawbacks. However, most of the information was nothing new - just presented in a slightly different way and/or different setting.

4: Software-as-a-service

Software-as-a-service is another topic that has been around and has begun its "rehashing" phase. Like the cloud, SaaS was heavily discussed (along with its cousins, platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service) at this year's Interop, but there was almost no new information. Most of it centered on how various vendors have changed their SaaS software in the last year or so or how they plan to in the next year.

5: Mobility

With the recent adoption of 802.11ac, mobility was definitely a hot topic at Interop. There were sessions covering wireless networking theory all the way through implementing a Phase 1 802.11ac wireless network. Phase 1 is basically an enhanced Wireless-N spec -- faster speeds, etc. Phase 2, coming in about a year, will include most of the new 11ac features, like beamforming and multi-user MIMO. Managing your wireless infrastructure, developing tools to monitor it, and allowing for growth were also key areas.

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Image: Interop Las Vegas, March 31-April 4, 2014

6: BYOD

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has been in the mainstream IT conversation for a long time, but it is still hotly debated. Do companies allow it or block it? Is there an advantage or disadvantage in letting your employees choose the device they do their work on? What access to your network resources do you give those devices? All these questions and more were debated and discussed with still no hard-set resolution. "It's up to the company" still seems to be the only answer given. The BYOD discussion culminated, to me, in the session "You Can Say No to BYOD," led by a university IT professional. His whole session was basically pointing out how he has no choice but to allow BYOD. Talk about a contradiction.

7: Internet of Things

As with BYOD, there is considerable concern over the Internet of Things. This concept, connecting nearly any device -- sensors, medical equipment, appliances, and the list goes on and on -- to your company network, sends shivers down the spines of IT admins everywhere. "What operating system does that equipment run? Windows XP embedded? Great, I'll bet it's never been patched either!"

But having smart equipment that can go out to the internet and grab comparative statistics to better inform users makes them that much more effective at their job. I spoke recently to a friend who repairs industrial air compressors. He pointed out that his tools used to be wrenches and screwdrivers; now it's an iPad. This is the embodiment of the Internet of Things. Those air compressors are wired into the company LAN and have onboard computers that do a lot of the diagnostic and monitoring work for him.

8: IPv6

We've all heard it's coming. We're almost out of IPv4 addresses. We have been for years. However, most modern operating systems not only have IPv6 turned on by default, they also prefer it for communication. This includes Windows 2008/Vista and greater. One session leader pointed out that every single one of us in the room has deployed IPv6, but most of us don't realize it. And he's right. If you haven't studied up on IPv6, now is the time -- your network could suffer if you don't.

9: Big data

Another IT buzzword, big data is the concept of large, aggregated data sets that can be used to do things like predictive modeling. It can also be a burden on IT departments. External big data, like Data.gov, will occupy your internet connection when it's used, but internal big data, like CRM software and electronic medical records (EMRs), will occupy your server space. Both will occupy your compute cycles. Understanding how this will affect your environment was the focus of several sessions.

10: CIO and IT management

No IT conference would be complete without sessions targeted toward CIOs and IT managers. Stuck in the middle between IT staff and senior management, those folks need all the assistance they can get. For example, the two-day Boot Camp for New IT Managers during the workshop days assisted with formalizing policies and procedures, managing expectations, building commitment, and more.

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