Gartner's top 10 technologies for 2011

Gartner has identified its top technologies for 2011. Larry Dignan explains the rationale behind those choices and shares his thoughts on their viability and impact.

Gartner on Tuesday outlined the 10 technologies it thinks will give technology execs the most bang for their budgets in 2011. How many of these technologies will be a true hit?

Carl Claunch, an analyst at Gartner, said at the research firm's Symposium conference in Orlando that things like sustainability, data center overhauls, and virtualization were dropped. Here's Gartner's 2011 list, why those technologies were chosen, and a few observations.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in ZDNet's Between the Lines blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Cloud computing

This group of technologies has been on the top 10 lists for a few years. Now everything as a service will alter business models and IT procurement. Gartner analyst David Cearley said what has changed is that there are multiple services. Companies will probably need cloud computing brokers. Things to watch:

  • Where does the public cloud fit? IT is generally scared of the public cloud, but select workloads are fine.
  • Beware cloud washing. IT execs are comfortable with the vendors cloud washing but may not get real capability.
  • Limit access to specific clouds based on community and groups. That approach would minimize security risks. Gartner has exclusive clouds and community clouds as services to watch.
  • Private clouds are custom and packaged.

My impression: A safe pick for sure, but the cloud is getting more granular as it matures. Think cloud washing magnified.

2: Mobile apps and media tablets

Tablets and touch aren't new. Claunch said that the selection of applications changes the game for businesses. "Apple has leveraged the ecosystem of the iPhone," Claunch said. "And Apple has created consistency." In addition, Apple's iPad is the poster child for how consumerization is affecting corporate IT. Things to think about for enterprise IT:

  • Enterprise apps will need to be designed for the tablet.
  • Delivering these apps gets complicated due to the selection of platforms.
  • Context-aware computing can connect to customers better.
  • Marketing will drive a lot of projects to utilize tablets, but these devices can be used for inspections, surveys, image capture, documentation, and training.

Cearley added, "The PC era is over. Think of mobile design points."

My impression: It's stunning how many iPads are in this crowd of 7,000-plus IT execs and managers. Another thread: Almost all of these IT execs are carrying PCs not Macs. Typically, CIOs and the like are the last to get on board an early adoption curve for a new device. There's a frenzy over tablets.

3: Next-gen analytics

Companies need to develop "operational analytics" to make predictions and use data mashups. "There's value in very current information. We are now shifting our focus to start doing simulations and modeling to predict the future," Claunch said. These simulations would ultimately be run on smartphones and other devices. Algorithms will really matter to companies to support the right type of prediction.

Gartner didn't advocate doing a lot of analytics investment yet, but be ready to invest.

My impression: Analytics is largely untapped ground for many companies. Claunch's key point: "This is just being enabled now." Another key item: A show of hands revealed that the entire room had business intelligence software. A show of hands also indicated that no one thought those applications were delivering real value.

4: Social analytics

This concept revolves around taking social networking data and incorporating it into enterprise analysis. Sentiment, context, and influence are key areas for companies. "We're starting to see the tipping point," Cearley said. "It's moving from bleeding edge to mainstream activity." For now, look at communities you have to support and analyze an entry.

My impression: CIOs should be watching this stuff, but given the crowd response to business intelligence, I'm not seeing much progress on the analytics-social intersection.

5: Social communication and collaboration

Social collaboration is "inevitable," Cearley said. "Over the next few years, it will be impossible to ignore this," he added. By now, companies should have policies, high value social uses identified, and have experiments to link social with CRM systems. Meanwhile, unified communications will merge with social. Expertise location will probably be the best use case.

My impression: Gartner makes a good point, but I'd be willing to bet that enterprises are way behind the curve on social communication and what it means for collaboration and productivity.

6: Video

Corporate use of video is going mainstream. Low-cost video recorders are everywhere. Companies will need video content management systems and better design skills, and they'll need to address privacy issues and policy concerns. Will all conference rooms be recorded by default? E-learning, merchandising, marketing, webinars, and telepresence will all be key video uses. The tipping point will come in 2011 to 2013. In addition, video will be needed to reach younger employees.

My impression: Video has hit mainstream, but networks haven't. Will Vlogs really be the best use of employee time? One other key point: How will business intelligence systems digest video content?

7: Context-aware computing

The idea here is that social analytics and computing leads to knowledge about preferences. User interfaces would change based on context. Today, it's all reactive. By 2011 to 2013, there will be more proactive alerts. By 2014 to 2018, you'll have context integrated with enterprise systems. Ultimately, there will be a context platform. Portals, mashups, mobile, and social will combine. Vendors will offer "user experience platforms."

My impression: I have a hard time seeing strapped enterprises going all contextual. Look for business units such as marketing to launch these projects to drive sales. Companies will need to deliver context-aware services to businesses. Can't wait for all of those user experience platform pitches.

8: Ubiquitous computing

This topic has been discussed in previous years on Gartner's lists. In a nutshell, computers melt into objects. There will be machine-to-machine connections, portable personalities, and connectivity changes across multiple devices. There will be thousands of computers for each person on the planet, and you'll have multiple devices.

My impression: Ubiquitous computing is more a guiding principle for projects than something you think about in terms of budget. The timeline here is decades. What's also notable: Everyone has punted on getting one device to consolidate them all. We're doomed to carry a bunch of devices.

9: Storage class memory

When Flash meets RAM, there are differences in speed and costs. Persistent storage will also alter management. Claunch said that storage class memory goes beyond solid state drives. This new class of storage will lead to software where operating systems determine where data goes. Storage class memory will become more important over the next two to three years.

My impression: It's a bit experimental, but storage class memory will ride shotgun with analytics. Companies will have to define what data goes into fast memory.

10: Fabric based infrastructure and computers

Every vendor will talk fabric computing, so get ready for fabric-washing. The overall idea here is that you'll have infrastructure that manages resources in an integrated fashion. Cisco UCS and HP Matrix are examples. New ways of building servers will mean you buy pools of processors and memory instead of physically swapping boxes.

My impression: Forming your own flexible servers sounds appealing. The fabric thing sounds way futuristic for now, but the seeds are being planted.

More from Gartner Symposium

Larry Dignan is editorial director of TechRepublic and editor in chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet.


1. What the heck is 'cloud washing'? I could find plenty of links to sites that use the term, but none of the ones I checked defined it. 3. I'm in agreement with those who say their current analytical apps aren't delivering. 5. Someday I'll find someone who is actually getting value from their collaboration tools, someone outside a television commercial. 6. Video. The next evolution of form over content; the successor to the overdone PowerPoint presentation. 10. What the h-e-double hockey sticks is 'fabric based infrastructure'? The only results that didn't refer to the textile industry were from the last three days and referred directly to this Gartner forecast. Did they just make up the term to see who would bite on it? I assume 'fabric washing' will be apparent once I know what 'cloud washing' and 'fabric based infrastructure' is. Maybe I'm not at the rarefied levels where these terms are routinely tossed around (by those who don't really understand them either?). Of course, this could be just another Gartner wish list...


Given the high probability that we're in the midst of a Cyber War at this very moment, with the Chinese (probably) planting data bombs in our IT infrastructure, don't you think cyber defense has some place in your top ten? I've proposed Congress using Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution to issue LETTERS OF MARQUE AND REPRISAL to a select number of modern day privateers. It's worth some discussion ( Does this make good policy or just a good novel?


Rick, I'm quite sure there will be a place for security. Can you i.e. imagine an unsecured cloud solution? Better not I would say. But security is not too sexy too mention. It's treated as cost and not as an opportunity. Probably that's why it's not within the top 10.


"...and delineate what is a new type of technology and what is simply last year?s technology in new clothing (what I call ?cloud-washing?)." Isn't 'cloud computing' just 'software as a service' under a new name? Shouldn't the term be 'SasS-washing'? If Gartner thinks renaming older technology is a new trend, I've got news for them. And I still don't get 'fabric-based'. I don't get the '-washing' part. Any guesses what's being cleaned?


Not to mention the connectivity. We've got a dedicated circuit to our corporate SAP server in Italy and it goes down several times a year. Now we're supposed to trust the vagaries of the web?


I've been hearing radio ads for email services for small businesses in the cloud for $3 a month per head. At that price, why would anyone buy a small email server themselves?


I believe sooner or later we are all using cloud (enabled) solutions. Take an e-mail service as an example. Also more an more collaboration tools will be provided from the cloud. And soon you won't by text processing and other applications anymore, but you will use them from the cloud. There might be no way back and that's why (data) security is becoming even more important.


In fact we sell it. We just don't call it the cloud. Used to be the business model was we sell the customer servers and software. Now most of our sales are just software licenses. The customer logs onto our server (in our data centre connected to the internet) through Internet Explorer (or a mobile app with limited functionality) over the internet. If they have a data transfer setup with a third party, generally, it just goes from our app server to the third parties server seemlessly. We charge more per month. The customer doesn't have to keep upgrading servers, backing up (like they ever did it consistently anyway). They do have to have good internet connection.

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