The five hottest IT trends of 2012, so far

The IT world continues to sprint forward at an unrelenting pace and these are its five hottest trends so far in 2012, according to TechRepublic's Jason Hiner.

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As part of what we do at TechRepublic we talk to a lot of CIOs who are planning budgets, IT professionals who are planning projects, and IT vendors who are selling products. That gives us a lot of valuable insights into which way the winds are blowing in IT. With that in mind, it's time to take a look at the IT trends that have the most momentum behind them so far in 2012.

Let's count them down.

5. The projectization of IT

Projects have always been a major part of IT, but in the past there was also a lot of IT resources dedicated to keeping the lights on and keeping the world running. Companies now take those operational aspects of IT for granted and want that existing infrastructure automated as much as possible and for as cheaply as possible. There's little glory or job security in keeping the company's existing systems on life support.

That's why outsourcing and the cloud are such hot commodities. They allow companies to offload IT operational costs and focus their IT staff on the next project to upgrade systems, streamline business processes, and launch new IT projects to transform the business. More than ever, IT is all about the projects. It's about the vendors that can help support IT projects (and there are infrastructure jobs for IT pros there). It's about the business analysts and project managers who can organize people and resources to pull off projects on time and on budget. It's about the CIOs who now base their budget and staffing decisions largely on projects rather than just the cost of keeping the server room running.

4. PC/Mobile convergence

Employees are more mobile than ever. There are a lot of factors driving that, from increased telecommuting to work/life balance where people leave early to pick up their kids and then work the rest of the afternoon from a cafe or the stands at the soccer field. There are also industries such as transportation and health care that have always had lots of non-desk employees and have had to shoe-horn computing solutions into their work environments.

The growing capabilities of smartphones and tablets are filling many of these needs as these mobile devices become more able to do the tasks of a full PC. Still, there are times when workers can be even more productive when working with a full keyboard and mouse. That's why we're beginning to see the rise of products like Motorola Webtop (a smartphone docking solution), Ubuntu for Android (desktop OS embedded in a smartphone), and Microsoft Surface (a tablet with a kickstand and keyboard cover). The lines between traditional PCs and mobile devices continue to blur.

3. Desktop thinning

Let's be honest. The proliferation of mobile devices and the Bring Your Own Device trend has created a lot of headaches and nightmare scenarios for the IT department. For companies that need stronger security and more control over the employee environment, one of the easiest answers to the problem is to move to solutions like desktop virtualization or terminal services from vendors like VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft.

That allows the IT department to create a standard environment with all the company apps that employees can access from a company PC, their home PC or laptop (over VPN), or even a tablet or smartphone. The environment looks and feels like a traditional PC but the apps and all the data remain on the company servers which is more secure and easier for the IT department to manage and troubleshoot. This technology has been around for years, as "thin clients." But there are three factors driving it forward in 2012: 1.) BYOD, 2.) mobile devices, and 3.) it lets companies delay PC upgrades since it pushes all of the heavy lifting to the servers. So companies still aren't going to thin clients in large numbers, but their desktop environments are getting a lot thinner.

2. Big Data

If "Cloud Computing" has been the overhyped and overused IT term of the last several years, the new buzz phrase of 2012 is "Big Data." Like Cloud, Big Data gets abused by marketers. The main thing you need to understand when it comes to Big Data is that it's about bringing together the "structured" internal data that your company has always used for its reports and mixing it with public "unstructured" data like social media streams and freely available government data (on traffic, agriculture, crime, etc.).

The act of combining these two types of data can give you new insights into how your customers feel about your products versus your competitors (from the social media streams), it can help you anticipate changes in product demand, it can help you use government trending data to anticipate the growth or decline of markets, and more. That's why Big Data is such a big deal. But, don't be fooled. It's still in its infancy. There aren't a ton of great commercial tools yet that can help you harness Big Data. It takes the right IT pros who know how to work some data magic, and they are in high demand.

1. Cloud, cloud, and cloud

There are essentially three types of clouds — the full Internet cloud (some call it the "public cloud"), the private cloud (which looks a lot like a traditional data center, but with lots of virtualization), and the hybrid cloud (an integrated mix of public and private clouds). Make no mistake, all three types of clouds are thriving in 2012. The public cloud is the one that most people think of when they hear "cloud" and it's mostly about hosted apps like Salesforce.com and Workday.com as well as Internet-hosted infrastructure like Rackspace and Amazon AWS. But, we're increasingly seeing traditional IT players like Microsoft, IBM, and HP quietly become big players in the cloud as well.

The private cloud and the hybrid cloud are for larger companies and organizations that need stronger security or have legacy apps that are not easily moved or migrated to the cloud. Both of these types of cloud solutions are picking up steam, especially in companies that have already moved their easy stuff to the cloud and are now digging in and dealing with some of the big, expensive, entrenched stuff.

Your take

What are the hottest IT trends in your world so far in 2012? Jump into the discussion below and let us know.


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 book, Follow the Geeks.

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