As with any large trade show, the vast multitude of attendees at the recently concluded VMworld 2011 were exposed to a cornucopia of products and services that staggers the imagination. Making sense of how those solutions fit into the modern world of IT is more difficult, although virtualization and cloud computing are two useful categories. Still, the big picture that VMware continues to emphasize is that a trio of disruptive trends is simultaneously transforming IT: infrastructure renewal, applications development and end user computing. Understanding these trends is necessary not only to comprehend what new products and services can do today, but also to get a better perspective of what is likely to happen in the future.
Of course, I run the risk of repeating myself, as I discussed the three earlier in the year after hearing a speech from Paul Maritz, the CEO of VMware. However, they bear repeating--hopefully, with some fresh insight--as they are central to thinking about the future of IT.
This discussion starts with the concept of punctuated equilibrium, a term typically used in evolutionary biology but one we can expropriate conceptually to apply to significant evolutionary changes in IT. Among the many IT trends that have occurred during the decades are the mainframe, the minicomputer, the PC, client/server, open systems, the Internet, relational databases and many more. All changed the IT landscape in some dramatic fashion. Yet, while more mature industries (such as automobile manufacturing) also evolve, they tend to do so more slowly than the technology industry. IT may have periods of quiet, but punctuated equilibriums tend to take place fairly frequently (in terms of years), and, if you believe Ray Kurzweil, that is not likely to stop anytime soon.
The difference this time, as Maritz was careful to point out, is that three major trends are currently happening simultaneously. They are:
IT infrastructure renewal: Code words, such as virtualization, cloud computing and even data center transformation help to give some sense of what is happening; however what it is really all about is reducing the complexity and improving the delivery of services from the IT infrastructure. The end goal is IT as a service, where end users get more value from their IT infrastructure while at the same time IT delivers those services more cost effectively.
Application development revolution: Maritz notes that you need to look carefully at what young developers are doing as they are the ones who are leading the revolution. Platform as a service (PaaS) will be used to get rid of the details, which today tend to cost IT customers a lot of time and resources. He stated that VMware’s Cloud Foundry is about how applications will be written in the future.
End user computing transformation: Maritz states that we are now in a post-PC world. Now, post-PC may be a bit of hyperbole because PCs still play an important role, but certainly the proliferation of other end user communicating and computing devices, such as smartphones and tablets, will continue. With Project Horizon, VMware will provision capabilities to people and not to devices; a physical phone will be split into "virtual" phones, where a user’s personal and business requirements are clearly, safely and securely separated.