Networking

Four reasons why 2009 will be a watershed year in technology

With jobs being shed and cash being horded by big technology companies, it would be easy to assume 2009 will be a quiet year in tech. Don't believe it. In fact, 2009 is going to be a watershed year. Here's why.

With jobs being shed and cash being horded by big technology companies, it would be easy to assume 2009 will be a quiet year in tech. Don't believe it. In fact, 2009 is going to be a watershed year. Here's why.

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Economic downturns are a great time to grow a business. It's when a lot of innovation happens quietly under the radar. That's because some companies get sidetracked trying to stay alive and weaker competitors often go out of business. That leaves the door wide open for innovators who find a way to build a better mousetrap, or offer products that are highly valuable in a down economy, or think up a product that no one knew they needed yet.

For a capital-intensive industry like the technology industry, it's natural to think that it will be one of the areas of the economy hardest hit by the current recession. However, in spite of the economic storm clouds, 2009 will likely be a watershed year in tech. There are two factors driving this: 1. Developments under way that will not slow down for the recession and 2. Opportunities that are being created or intensified by the recession itself.

As such, the following four developments will make 2009 a critical and memorable year in tech.

1. U.S. broadband investment

U.S. President Barack Obama is a long-time champion of universal broadband access. In 2007, he remarked, "Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age... Let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America."

So, it's no surprise that broadband investment is a large part of the massive economic stimulus package that he wants to use to jump-start the jalopy that is the U.S. economy. Although the $800 billion package - which is expected to pass this week - contains about $6 billion for broadband investments, this is likely just the beginning of the broadband initiatives for the Obama administration.

The current package contains $350 million to establish a new program that will create a detailed U.S. broadband map to identify underserved areas. It also includes a pair of $2.8 billion allotments, one to the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and one to the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That money will provide grants and loans to broadband vendors for build-outs in these underserved areas.

Those grants and loans will include open access provisions (a.k.a. Net Neutrality) and minimum bandwidth speed requirements: 45 Mbps for wired and 3 Mbps for wireless. The speed requirements will likely tip this toward favoring the wireless providers: Clearwire and several smaller vendors for WiMAX, and Verizon and AT&T for 3G/4G cellular broadband. That's not necessarily a bad thing if the U.S. emerged with a fully mobile and ubiquitous Internet infrastructure.

Broadband is important because it has a variety of social and economic impacts. It connects companies to a wider selection of labor markets, including lower-cost markets in the south and midwest. It enables talented workers greater options for telecommuting. It drives efficiency by enabling video conferencing and thus reducing the need for airline trips to attend a single meeting. The spread of broadband also has important ramifications for tele-medicine and distance learning.

Plus, if the United States is successful in spreading broadband to rural areas and making broadband more affordable to the masses, then this blueprint could spread to other parts of the world as well.

2. Storage in the cloud

Cloud computing was overused as a buzzword in 2008 to the point that it became nauseating. Some people really seemed to have no idea what they were referring to when talking about cloud computing, but the thing that most people latched on to was Web-based applications like Salesforce.com.

Web-based apps remain important, and you can expect them to continue to change the ways people work during 2009, but a much more important development is the arrival of Web-based storage. This is going to fundamentally change computing, because it is going to untether users from their PCs and allow them to quite simply access their work from anywhere on any device - eventually including smartphones as well.

While this may sound obvious and fairly simple, it has massive implications for the future of operating systems, IT management, personal privacy, and the ways that everyday people use computers.

Imagine Web-based storage not only storing your personal documents folder but also saving your bookmarks and cookies from your Web browser and your user-state information from your PC and smartphone so that, no matter what device you connect from, you will always have your shortcuts and settings configured just the way you prefer.

These types of scenarios have been rumored for years, but in 2009 you're going to see Web-based storage emerge as a major product from Microsoft, Google, and others. Microsoft already has SkyDrive and LiveMesh (competing products that will likely merge in 2009). Google has Google Docs and Gmail, which offer some Web-based file capabilities, and it has long been rumored to be working on the Google Drive, or GDrive.

Even more significantly, in recent years both Google and Microsoft have been building out massive data centers in a variety of locations in preparation for a feature where they will be providing much larger and more redundant online services. Cloud-based storage would definitely qualify.

3. Cheap computers unleashed

In 2007, when OLPC launched its XO laptop and ASUS launched its Eee PC, neither expected the massive market response that they got, especially from mature PC markets in the United States, Europe, and Japan. The demand for those two products led to the Netbook explosion, and computer makers Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Acer, and others launched their own Netbooks in 2008.

Netbooks grew from just about a half million units sold in 2007 to over 10 million units sold in 2008. And most PC industry analysts expect that number to double to 20 million units in 2009.

Almost all Netbooks have lightweight processors, minimal memory, and miniscule storage, and they are useful primarily for Web browsing, e-mail, and basic documenting viewing and editing. One thing that the Netbook phenomenon shows is that a lot of users don't need to do much more than that, and in the past many of them probably had a lot more computer than they needed.

The other trend that came out of the Netbook phenomenon was that many users were willing to buy a Netbook as a second or third computer, such as road warriors who just wanted something lightweight with good battery life to take on the road.

Many of these Netbooks are powered by Intel's Atom processor, and Intel now admits that it sees the Atom becoming its most widely-sold processor within the next few years. In addition to Netbooks, 2009 will see the arrival of "Nettops," Atom powered desktop computers. Some of those could cost as little as $100 (not including monitor) and could also be used to power thin clients as well.

The result of all these "cheap" PCs being unleashed on the market is that it will drive down the overall cost of a PC and significantly lower the barrier to entry for new people trying to buy a PC for the first time or replace an old one. That will lead to an increase in unit sales of PCs, although the profit margins will be razor thin for computer makers. However, combined with the U.S. investment in broadband, this could bring an inexpensive PC and low-cost Internet service to some of the families that have been left out of the digital revolution.

The growing power of Netbooks is so significant that Microsoft has already declared that Windows 7 will run on Netbooks.

4. An opportunity in power

After cloud computing, the next most overused buzzword in 2008 was "Green IT." And while many Green IT and alternative energy initiatives have been shelved due to lack of funding since the economic meltdown last September, there is still a place for projects that can show a clear ROI through energy savings.

Most businesses, IT departments, small offices, and even consumers have not come anywhere near achieving the kind of energy efficiency or conservation that they are capable of. In all of these cases, there is lots of energy wasted on a daily basis. For businesses and IT departments, this is low-hanging fruit, because there are lots of efficiencies that they can wring out and then come away with substantial savings on the electric bill.

One of the easiest places for IT departments to start working on power savings is with desktop computers, because they are typically left on constantly and the default power management settings are often disabled or set to leave the desktops on all the time. Products like Verdiem allow IT departments to take control of all the desktops on their network, override apps that unnecessarily wake up the computer, and apply policies that can enforce much stronger power management settings while still keeping the system usable. This can save big money, especially in very large companies.

Another approach to the same problem is offered by EcoButton, a single button that employees can use to put their computers to sleep when they walk away for a moment, and then wake the PC back up as soon as they return. This also has a splash screen that shows the employee how much energy and money has been saved to date by using the product. Right now, the product is mostly aimed at small businesses and home users, but an enterprise version will be released later this year.

The difference with EcoButton is that it not only saves energy but it also raises awareness among employees. For example, one company that gave out EcoButtons quickly noticed that users became much more likely to turn off lights and look for other opportunities to conserve power.

Other opportunities for businesses and IT departments to wring out additional energy savings include server consolidation and server virtualization in the data center. Also, Cisco wants to help manage the power of devices across the network with its new EnergyWise technology.

There is now the collective will to conserve energy as a matter of corporate and social responsibility, a huge opportunity to save money on electric bills, and tools that help businesses manage the process intelligently and with clear ROI.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

41 comments
ron weasley
ron weasley

Do you really believe Obama will deliver on those promises after he passed the delay for digital television? This alone will add at least 6 more months to our wait for rural broadband access. Clinton made similar promises about rural Internet access and we have yet to see it, so it wasn't too surprising when Obama ordered the catastrophic-for-rural-broadband bill to be written. The move to digital TV should have been the innovation necessary to finally get cellular service into our home, instead, we live in a black hole for at least 5 more months. What's to stop him from delaying it through 2010 come May?

myk_hodgson
myk_hodgson

Also watch out for something new: an intelligent information browser. Due out earlyish 2009.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

"Broadband" is totally unclear to me.Pulses of DC is the one.

The Admiral
The Admiral

This is absolutely hilarious. This is the same methodology that was used after 2000 and 2001, just before they started offshoring jobs en masse. Now that they are continuing to do so, not just in technology, but also in all of the other fields - like banking - I don't believe we will see a recurrence of jobs. These jobs that we are loosing now are jobs that are going to be gone forever according to a recent economist on Fox news and later on CNN. Watershed? I doubt it - since we are looking at a permenant drought.

douglasgross
douglasgross

I would say this is true of IT in general, but I am studying web development with an associate's behind my belt and about a year to go to get my bachelor's. I haven't had any luck at landing a job because the requirements for most web developer positions are long lists of skills. I would not advise going to college to try and become a web developer, but pursuing certifications instead. College seems to lack curriculum when it comes to that area of study. I am bogged down doing self-study just trying to level the playing field. I am also looking at getting some simple networking certifications to get me an immediate job, as I cannot continue to wait for a web job. I should also note that I am highly qualified, but I have no work experience in web to put on my resume because who wants to hire a college student without previous experience? I don't think anything can stop IT from expanding in the business sector, but I am neither pessimistic or optimistic.

dshj
dshj

You left out Mobile Me for Mac users. I'm able to share my bookmarks, passwords, calendars, e-mail accounts and preferences, address book, dashboard, dock items, and system preferences between multiple Macs. After the kinks were worked out last year, it's worked rather nicely for me. Yes, it's a $100/yr service, but it keeps all of my computers synchronized with each other so I don't need to worry about making sure that contact was updated between my MacBook/MacPro/iPhone. I don't need to worry about being on the other computer, because the keychain item isn't on this one. Keychains are also synched. It's not the perfect product, but it's a step in the right direction.

xpermental
xpermental

How would the U.S. broadband investment affect users currently on dial-up? would it mean a the government would provide a slow broadband for the common taxpayer for free, or would dial-up users be required to pay a higher price to a company that provides high speed

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

The government would not be a broadband provider. They would simply provide grants and loans to vendors to build the infrastructure. These broadband lines would be open access so that is being counted on to drive the prices down. Dial-up would still be an option, but broadband would be a new alternative in many places. I'm assuming these broadband plans would likely have tiers and the lowest tier would be price-comparable to dial-up (as many of the lowest-tier DSL packages are now).

chris
chris

Jason, you talk of innovation during the "downturn". I'd be interested in looking back at other downturns to see what innovations came from them. Any historical data on what kinds of things have come out of economic downturns?

warhippy1
warhippy1

The Hoover Dam. Granted, by itself, it wasn't that much of a tech advance as it was a reason to put people back to work, it worked pretty well.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

How about the Big One Adolf Hitler was elected as the Popular Leader of Germany during the biggest Downturn last century. The reason he was elected was because he advocated spending Germany's way out of the rescission when at the time the Popular Opinion was to sit tight and wait till things improved. But I don't think that is what you are asking about here is it? :D Col

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Microsoft and Apple were built during the recession in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Google was built during the recession following the dot com bust in 2000.

DroppinIT
DroppinIT

After reading an article on Slashdot over the week which referenced this CNN article, it seems that the 2 and 9-zero dollars in stimulus for broadband has been removed from the latest version of the bill.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

The amount in the Senate bill is still $7 billion. The stuff that was trimmed out is not included in the 7B.

jk2001
jk2001

The profit motive generally encourages companies (or cartels) to create shortages of valuable resources, to maintain profit margins. Left to the market, we'll never have universal access to broadband internet in this country.

dmm99
dmm99

They had better have a rock-solid OS, because those users are going to be even more naive than current users. Otherwise, it's going to be botnet heaven for the bad hats, and DDOS purgatory for the rest of us.

GuardianOZ
GuardianOZ

I have found that the cheaper the systems are becoming, the less a client/prospect wants to pay for your services. As professionals in an industry that demands that you are constantly reviewing and updating your skills (much in your own personal time and at your cost) we are being screwed into the ground. It will be very hard in the future to justify an invoice to a client for 1 hour of services, let alone 2 hours or more at a rate of $100+ when the system itself only costs them $100.00 I am normally very optimistic about the industry, but I fear, we will still be required to apply ourselves to studies and tech changes as we have in the past, but we will soon be working for scraps.

reisen55
reisen55

If one my clients wants to purchase a "thing" be it computer, printer or whatever, it gives ME something to work on and and invoice for. As independent consultants, we need STUFF to work on, so I do not worry about that. I do like to control and guide purchase decisions to save the client money and make that abundantly clear to the client. Case in point: Client wanted a new workstation in a medical office. I am going to charge X hours to put it into the network anyway. But without the purchase I cannot do anything. Choice I presented was simple: New Dell Vostro for $ 650 or Refurb Dell Optiplex GX280 for $ 177 Now many times (I told the client this) do you see the "dell computer" bust? Never, oh hard drives and Windows issues only. But not the computer itself. Sale closed: cheap computer with warranty, they saved about $400 and I made my consulting time and staff is delighted. Win,Win,Win.

tegenders
tegenders

Well Duh statement of the decade. "One thing that the Netbook phenomenon shows is that a lot of users don?t need to do much more than that, and in the past many of them probably had a lot more computer than they needed." Feature rich applications seldom get used to their fullest because people don't want to take the time to learn them. KISS principle ...

pickleman
pickleman

LOL I'm nearly speechless that this wasn't proclaimed as "The Year of Linux" for the billionth time...

reisen55
reisen55

Why think otherwise? We do not change by calendar year nor by operating systems or server technology. Change is constant, incremental and in small steps that occur constantly throughout time.

richard.n.carpenter
richard.n.carpenter

Cloud computing and Quantum Encryption are intertwined - the later will enable the former.

tmoore
tmoore

What's really needed for web storage to really take off is a way to have that data easily and automatically encrypted so that the data owner is assured that his or her data is not exposed to others (including the administrators of the web storage service).

LouCed
LouCed

Remember that no matter how encrypted info in a cloud is, the government is going to whant a "universal" key to access it.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Not at all the Government and for that meter every Government on the Globe already has this. It's actually Illegal to release any Encryption Technology that may be used to transmit Encrypted Data over Telecommunications Lines without first giving the Government that [b]Universal Key.[/b] And here that is every Country Government who asks for it. Encryption is the greatest Myth that was ever passed onto the unsuspecting Public as it simply doesn't exist when it comes to Country Governments or their Agencies. :^0 Col

herbert_mendoza
herbert_mendoza

yeah i agree thats a possibility..i remember the movie entitled "Eagle Eye"..

Glenn from Iowa
Glenn from Iowa

Web-based storage has been available for at least 10 years. There is a push now to put everything on the Web: software, processing power, data, etc. Ten years ago, what kept me from adopting Web-based storage was the limited storage space and the privacy/encryption/security issue. Although the storage space issue is improving, until the security of the information can be guaranteed (or at least better than our credit card data currently), only semi-public data (such as Web pages) will be stored on the Web. Most user docs will continue to be stored within the enterprise or on local storage. Web-based storage can "untether users from their PCs and allow them to quite simply access their work from anywhere on any device," but so can portable devices: Flash drives, external hard drives, etc. Web-based storage will be competing with portable media, and both will need to be encrypted and otherwise protected from data loss and unauthorized access. I'm not saying it can't be done or won't be done. I'm just saying it has some significant hurdles to overcome before it should be done.

chris
chris

but I won't be surprised if many journalist and bloggers, etc make a fair amount of money talking about it :-P

burkew0@comcast.net
burkew0@comcast.net

Not so sure I want my personal info floating around in a cloud managed by Microsoft or anybody else for that matter my $.02

Animal13
Animal13

I've got news for you; Your personal data is already all over the net. I know you are from Quincy, Mass. Just look at all the junk mail, pre-approved offers, etc. that are out there. No matter how vigilant you are about protecting your identity, your information is out there. Heck, my grocery store sends me ads tailored to what I bought in their store last week. The "cloud" already knows way more about you than 1984...

F4A6Pilot
F4A6Pilot

Your average 69 year old Senator cares nothing about broadband access. The older ones less than that. We need new blood in Washington who understand that welfare giveaways do nothing to stimulate the economy, but rebuilding the Navy would...

blacksmith
blacksmith

Don't have such a narrow focus, swabby. Go with Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Old Dogface

chris
chris

the key thing is that no one (I hope) wants to upload their personal photos, music, letters, etc to be managed by someone else. everyone should fight for maintaining their privacy.

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

MY personal data is barely "Out there" and you would have a hard time finding out much about me. What we are actually talking about though, kids, is my companie's information that I am responsible for maintaining and securing. That is what they are taling about putting in the cloud so that people can access it and work from anywhere. Perhaps one day we will figure out that there is more to life than working and won't see a need to be able to work from anywhere anytime.

uberg33k50
uberg33k50

Another media attempted hype..."OOO everyone is going to turn over their data to Microsoft and Google." Nope, I don't think so. I hope enough people are smart enough to remeber the leasons of "Animal Farm" and realize that information and the control thereof is power. I hope they do not blindly follow the media's crap that tries to turn buzzwords into reality to justify their jobs and their egos.

Poordirtfarmer
Poordirtfarmer

I?m not sure exactly what ?turn data over? means, but I?ve read repeatedly that Google, MS and even the ISPs keep EVERYTHING. Storage is cheap-cheap-cheap. Short of them copywriting your work in their name, you already have no control what happens to your data.

beowulf_cam
beowulf_cam

So... they want us to store our data on-line. At a time when everything seems hackable I do not want my personal data exposed. I like my data safe behind a firewall. In addition, you don't know where your data could end up - China, India, Vietnam, Russia, Homeland Security? Governments will insist they have access. Corporations will end up selling the data. Once your data is in the cloud you've lost control of it. Can they guarantee 7/24 access? No. Can they guarantee total security? No. The very idea of cloud storage is it's greatest weakness - it's connected to the internet. Not to be too negative, but you would have to be an idiot to trust sensitive or important data to a "cloud".

jda
jda

Solid state drives will start to eat spinning disk market share from laptops to servers. And high performance SSD technology (like the Fusion Io-drive) will start to change the entire system paradigm since the O/S storage bottleneck will be reduced. SSDs are part of the technology mix that has made the Netbook possible - low power and bullet-proof storage that is fast enough to do the job. But the SSD advantages will apply universally as capacity and speed improve on the Moores Law curve.

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