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Gartner: Brace yourself for cloud computing

Cloud computing led Gartner's list of ten big technologies to plan for in 2010. Also: mobile apps, desktop virtualization, social networks, green IT, flash memory.

Gartner analyst David Cearley
Gartner analyst David Cearley
Stephen Shankland/CNET

ORLANDO, Fla.--Cloud computing isn't going to be vapor much longer, Gartner said Tuesday.

The general idea--shared computing services accessible over the Internet that can expand or contract on demand--topped Gartner's list of the 10 top technologies that information technology personnel need to plan for. It's complicated, poses security risks, and computing technology companies are latching onto the buzzword in droves, but the phenomenon should be taken seriously, said analyst Dave Cearley here at the Gartner Symposium.

Gartner's top trends to watch.
Gartner's top trends to watch. Gartner

Specifically, companies should figure out what cloud services might give them value, how to write applications that run on cloud services, and whether they should build their own private clouds that use Internet-style networking technology within a company's firewall.

Cloud computing takes several forms, from the nuts and bolts of Amazon Web Services to the more finished foundation of Google App Engine to the full-on application of Salesforce.com. Companies should figure out what if any of those approaches are most suited to their challenges, Gartner said.

Gartner analyst Carl Claunch
Gartner analyst Carl Claunch Stephen Shankland/CNET

The advice came as part of a talk on top trends coming in 2010 that companies should incorporate into their strategic planning, if not necessarily their own computer systems. The full list of 10: 1. cloud computing; 2. advanced analytics; 3. client computing; 4. IT for green; 5. reshaping the data center; 6. social computing; 7. security--activity monitoring; 8. flash memory; 9. virtualization for availability; and 10. mobile applications.

Second on the list is virtualization--not just in the broad sense of technology that lets a single computer run multiple operating systems simultaneously, where it's become a fixture in data centers, but as a means to keep computing services up and running despite computer failures, said analyst Carl Claunch.

Virtual machines can be moved from one physical machine to another today. Later, by keeping two machines tightly synchronized, a failure in a primary machine can be eased over rapidly by moving the active service to the backup machine, Claunch said.

"We should start seeing this roll out in the next year or two from vendors," he said.

The Gartner hype cycle takes on the PC.
The Gartner hype cycle takes on the PC. Gartner

For PCs, virtualization is arriving, too.

"Think of applications in bubbles," Cearley said. "They can run on client devices or up on a server," with virtualization providing the encapsulation technology to move the work around. The official corporate computing environment can run side by side with employees' home computing environment.

That, along with cloud computing, enables more freedom for people using PCs.

"We're looking at a time when the specific operating system and device options matter a lot less," Cearley said. "You could use a home PC or a Macintosh with a managed corporate image running on that particular device...We see more companies providing a stipend (for) employee-owned PCs."

Make your data center modular.
Make your data center modular. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Another idea: modular data centers. You don't have set up your IT gear in storage containers, but do divide them into pods that each have their own computing, power, and cooling, Claunch said. That makes it easier to pay as you go, to adapt to new technologies, and to increase energy efficiency by partitioning hot hardware from cooler hardware.

Green IT is important--and changing in its nature. It's not just a matter of buying efficient computers, but also of using computers to increase the efficiency of other parts of the business, Cearley said. For example, analytics can improve the efficiency of transportation of goods.

Next comes applications for mobile devices. "That has great potential for creating different experience or stickiness for your customers," Cearley said.

And mobile x86 processors from Intel and AMD could make software development easier, too, he added.

Social networking will happen internally and externally.
Social networking will happen internally and externally. Gartner

Social-networking applications, broadly defined, also should be on company radar screens. The technology can take the form of internal corporate social networks, interactions with customers, and use of public services such as Facebook and Twitter.

Companies need to get a handle on what's going on--and potentially business purposes such as understanding how the corporate brand is perceived.

"Social network analysis will be moving from a somewhat arcane discipline to a much more mainstream component of your social computing strategy," Cearley said.