The dependence of business on technology will continue its acceleration in 2008, but not all of the trends are happy ones. Learn which tech trends to keep an eye on during 2008 and how they will impact business and IT — for better and for worse.

8. Demand will grow for alternative form factor computers

In 2008, laptop computers will surpass desktops in total units sold for the first time, according to research firm IDC (laptops already passed desktops in retail sales back in 2005). IDC also estimates that laptops could represent two-thirds of all units sold by 2011. With businesses and users needing more portable computers, look for demand to grow for alternative form factor computers with even greater mobility.

This includes ultraportable notebooks, ultra mobile PCs (UMPCs), mobile Internet devices (MIDs, a new category touted by Intel), and even high-end smartphones with larger screens. These devices will become critical not just for a highly mobile professionals, but also industries where many workers don’t sit at desks, such as health care, industrial, transportation, etc. However, these devices won’t truly become mainstream until the mobile Internet hits critical mass.

Business users try out mobile Internet devices (MIDs) at the Intel booth at CES 2008 in Las Vegas.

7. WAN caching will save bandwidth and speed up remote users

Among the largest expenses in the IT budget are WAN and Internet bandwidth charges. It doesn’t help that most IT departments use their bandwidth very inefficiently by repeatedly sending the same files back and forth across the WAN. The good news is that several new WAN caching technologies from companies such as Riverbed, Packeteer, and Ipanema are changing the game (and Cisco and Juniper are trying to get into the game, too).

WAN caching can dramatically improve application performance and speed up file transfer for branch offices and remote workers. It does this by caching files and transferring only the changes, which also results in a significant reduction in bandwidth usage. For more on WAN caching, see Maximize application performance for remote offices and mobile workers.

6. Businesses will continue to avoid Windows Vista

Windows Vista will almost certainly sell more licenses in 2008 than it did in 2007, but that doesn’t mean that businesses will deploy it in large numbers. Since a Vista upgrade offers no major value proposition over Windows XP SP2, it’s difficult to see businesses ever widely adopting it under any current scenario. Plus, there have been rumblings that Microsoft might release Windows 7 (the successor to Vista) in 2009, which could indicate that Microsoft is on the verge of simply writing off Vista and attempting to move the majority of Windows users directly from XP to Windows 7.

5. Unified communications will unlock the business value of VoIP

While lots of companies have deployed VoIP in recent years, the true business value and productivity benefits of those systems won’t be fully unlocked until unified communications is deployed on top of VoIP. UC uses software as the glue that allows workers to connect multiple messaging and productivity systems, including e-mail, phone, instant messaging, calendaring, phone conferencing, and video conferencing. Combining all of these functions with integrated presence information can then open the door to more efficient communication between workers and help tame the chaos that is currently causing workers to have to manage up to five different systems to get their messages.

4. Green IT will gain legal momentum to target data centers

IBM and Hewlett-Packard are both in the midst of massive data center consolidation projects. While both of them want to simplify their IT operations, the primary motivator appears to be reducing energy costs. IBM said that its consolidation will save $250 million in energy, reduce floor space for its servers by 85%, and save enough energy to power a small town, as I reported in Blue Blue goes green last July.

While IBM and HP are taking these actions voluntarily, it’s not going to take long for governments to look at these types of efforts and start to think about mandating energy controls for data centers as part of requiring businesses to get their energy consumption under control. Since data centers account for roughly a quarter of all global carbon dioxide emissions produced by technology (and is increasing rapidly), it has already become a key target for energy savings — and responsibility for this will fall directly into the lap of IT departments. For more, read Squeezing green from the data center.

3. Mobile Internet will change the way people work

The next stage of the Internet is the widespread mobilization of broadband access. Once that happens, it will have a profound impact on many industries, businesses, and workers. It will change data consumption habits, business processes, communications infrastructures, and much more. We will begin to see more isolated pockets of these types of changes later this spring in the United States, with Sprint’s rollout of mobile WiMAX in the Chicago and Washington D.C. areas.

Mobile WiMAX will spread to many other U.S. and international cities over the next 24-36 months on its journey to critical mass, and then it will be confronted by competition from LTE and other mobile broadband technologies. However, in the United States, the next stage of the Internet begins in 2008. If you want to see the future in action today, go to Seoul, South Korea, where an alternative form of mobile WiMAX called WiBro has already been deployed.

Intel, Clearwire, and Motorola combined on this demonstration of Mobile WiMAX at CES 2008.

2. Utility computing will start a new wave of IT outsourcing

Repeat after me, “Off-shoring is not the same outsourcing.” Off-shoring is one form of outsourcing, and it’s not the form of outsourcing I’m talking about here, so keep that in mind. Now, utility computing involves using virtualization to build a data center with a new level of flexibility, scalability, and manageability. Utility computing could allow a company to deploy an entirely new data center within 24 hours. It would allow IT to scale up and scale down server resources on the fly.

For example, you might scale up the number of domain login servers during business hours (when logins are heaviest) and then scale them down at night and scale up data synchronization servers to run during non-business hours. This type of utility computing will turn IT infrastructure and operations into a commodity and will drive costs down as companies outsource their data centers to utility computing vendors. This will run the gamut from full service outsourcing to simple colo arrangements. If you want a sneak peak at what this could look like, check out 3Tera.

1. Enterprise IT budgets will shrink in the U.S.

This will be a year of survival for IT departments at U.S. companies. For organizations that have their businesses focused on the U.S. market, 2008 will be a challenging year because of high energy costs, a tight credit market, and the weakness of the U.S. dollar. Many of them will likely be looking to cut costs. IT departments will need to clearly articulate their value to preserve their headcounts and budgets.

On the other hand, companies with a large international presence that can take advantage of the rapid infrastructure build-out in emerging markets, could actually grow in 2008. For evidence of that, look at the strong earnings results and 2008 expectations from IBM and GE.

What other trends do you think should be on this list? Join the discussion.