No Jitter is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

The State of the Union

Every year seems to have something that fairly characterizes it. For 2010, it was the "Year of Recovery", and for 2011 it's pretty clear that it's going to be the "Year of the Union". There are a lot of market forces acting to bring things together in the coming year, and many of the unions that will be created will have a profound impact on the telecom market.

The key technology union will be the convergence of cloud providers and appliance vendors on HTML5. Everyone knows that network-enabled appliances are proliferating, but most people haven’t considered the question of what all those largely incompatible choices will mean for applications. Apple and others might like to think they'll be selling enterprise application tools in their stores, but enterprises aren't interested in supporting a dozen different devices with different application GUIs and perhaps different levels of security support. What they want (by a 77% margin according to my fall enterprise survey) is HTML5 browser-based applications that run on any appliance.

The player to watch in this development is Apple, because Apple is in the interesting position of supporting HTML5 as an alternative to Adobe's Flash, but also finding HTML5 supported by arch-rival Google. Google loves open web platforms, but Apple loves closed markets they can exploit. It may well be that the Flash wars Apple launched will trap them into supporting HTML5 even though it undermines the uniqueness of the iPhone and iPad. If we see Apple suddenly finding love for Flash, it's a sure sign that HTML5 is threatening their model.

In the vendor space, the key union will be between Oracle and network equipment. Every major Oracle competitor sells networking gear, and it's very unlikely Oracle will be able to resist; there's just too much buyer interest in one-stop shopping. My personal bet is that Oracle will buy somebody, and players like Brocade or Extreme could be just what they'd like--good technology and a low market capitalization to make the acquisition easy for investors to accept.

This particular union will be important to networking because a full-fledged battle between IT giants that includes network equipment might marginalize pure-play network vendors. Cisco, the market leader in enterprise networking, is increasingly positioning itself as more of an IT player, and if Cisco's not a "network vendor" any more, how relevant is the network space anyway? Bet on players like F5 and Juniper to have answers for that question in 2011, or expect a lot more consolidation among vendors in the space.

At the level of enterprise tech policy, expect to see IT management and line management finally strike a balance on cloud computing. For the last 18 months, these two groups have embraced the cloud, but both have very different visions of what that means. IT is thinking in terms of revamping their internal data centers to a cloud model and using public cloud services as backup and offload resources. Line departments see themselves shedding IT influence (and cost) and going it alone. In 2010, though, three of every four public cloud RFPs produced responses that were more than 50% costlier than the buyers would tolerate. Five of every six private cloud projects failed to advance to implementation. Both sides now see that it's important to get behind a common set of goals, and to move forward in a more unified way. Most enterprises now realize they'll never cloud-source the majority of their mission-critical IT, and most IT organizations know that they need to use public cloud resources to quickly advance new projects, not just for backup. Expect real progress in 2011, but not the kind you read about in the media!

For UC and UCC, the prospects for union are more complicated. We've had debates on whether we should have private UC/UCC or cloud UC/UCC or maybe UC/UCC-as-a-Service offered by a common carrier. All these "maybes" are being swept aside by the appliance revolution, and in particular tablets. A device-centric UC model doesn't relieve us of the choice of where to host the features, but it does make that decision a bit invisible to the user. Stuff that’s invisible doesn't attract sales activity, and thus players who have tablets are more likely to drive UC/UCC direction than any of the conventional giants.

That's going to create an interesting dynamic, because we already have some tablets (Cisco's and RIM's) that are almost targeted at UC applications. As it gets clear that the tablet will be the UC platform of the future, I think we can expect to see other UC firms rolling out their own tablets, tablet-based hosted UC/UCC, or both--Avaya will likely launch a serious tablet contender at a reasonable price, and Microsoft will jump in as well. I think it's too late, though.

Which leads to my final union--IT and networking. Buyers tell me that their network people are losing strategic influence with senior management at a faster pace than ever. One-stop shopping is encouraging combined IT/network deals, particularly in the critical data center area. Networking is becoming an IT support activity, and whether that trend will continue depends on whether independent networking vendors can find missions for the network outside the traditional connection/transport roles. Post-It notes revitalized paper; something new needs to revitalize networking in 2011.