Monday, January 7, 2008

Top 10 tech trends likely to make waves in 2008

What's 2008 going to be like, especially for the IT world? Well, it's quite a difficult task to predict what the New Year has in store for us. But, let's give it a try. I and Pradeep Chakraborty, Executive Editor, CIOL, present you a list of technology trends likely to make waves in 2008.

1. Greening of IT
Data centers of today are witnessing very high power consumption and cooling requirements. Skyrocketing energy consumption surely poses a challenge to the environment. Besides this, the hazardous effect of e-waste is also a major environmental concern in today’s IT sector. (It is estimated that more than 800 million PCs will be replaced during 2007 and 2012) As a result, the IT world has started realizing the need for ‘greening of IT’ to minimize the harmful effects of energy expulsion from IT operations and data centers.
(Green Data Center report from Symantec Corp. states that nearly three-fourths of respondents of the survey stated they have interest in adopting a strategic green data center initiative).The ‘green IT’ movement has already succeeded in creating environmental responsibility among major IT vendors across the globe.

2. Is 2008 going to be the year of Linux?
It’s been years since we started talking about the ‘year of Linux’. Finally, good news for open source buffs? Well, we really can’t predict that. But, there is a hope that the coming time could be a real turning point in the history of open source, making 2008 the year of Linux on desktop. Though Linux will not be a direct replacement for Windows, we are definitely going to see a major increase in the number of end-users adopting Linux.
PC giant Dell, at the beginning of this year, gave us a positive sign by introducing Linux computers. A number of other vendors are also betting high on Linux. Ubuntu has already received recognition among mobile users and server market. Linux Desktop, though gradually, is gaining momentum. At this point in time, we can only wait and watch the game!

3. Will Vista be the OS to own?
When Microsoft launched Vista, Gartner’s analysts suggested ignoring the new operating system until 2008 and not to rush into upgrading. So, it’s time for us to rethink. Lots of users are still waiting for the first service pack to arrive before upgrading from Windows XP. And, hopefully, SP1 is likely to arrive in the beginning of 2008. Vista definitely offers some advanced security feature and more polished interface. But due to some concerns related to application compatibility and more hardware requirements, consumers, till now, were reluctant to switch to Vista.
However, some recent surveys show that a lot of companies are now willing to upgrade to Vista. Microsoft expects Vista to be accountable for 85 percent of operating system sales in fiscal 2008 compared with 15 percent for Windows XP. Majority of the consumers will, sooner or later, have to migrate to Vista. Well, that could be in 2008.

4. IPTV sees big surge in popularity
IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) is already in spotlight. It has opened up new possibilities for consumers, service providers and content providers. From a mere technology concept, IPTV has completed the first stage and has become a real service. In some countries, it is almost in the mass-market stage. IPTV is considered to be one of the most highly visible services to emerge as part of the development of next-generation networks (NGN).There are many more questions to be answered pertaining to the business model, pricing, packaging and the technology itself.
But, the coming year is definitely going to see more developments in the IPTV space. One thing worth mentioning, which may prove to be crucial for IPTV to reach its market potential, is the devlopments of standards for IPTV. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recently announced the first set of global standards for IPTV. So, there are definitely some good news for us. And, no doubt , as long as the demand for high-quality personalized content exists among the consumers, IPTV will not struggle to reach new horizons.

5. Will 802.11n arrive?
The 802.11n, the latest in the set of WLAN standards, comes with truly high speeds i.e. 4-5 times faster than 802.11g and fifty times faster than .11b! It also offers better operating distance comparing to the current wireless networks. Wow! This is really something the enterprises would love to invest in. There is no doubt that 802.11n is well positioned to redefine wireless networking. But, would the new standard finally arrive in 2008?
Ratification of the new standards is been delayed for quite a long time now and the users are really keen to see the faster version of Wi-Fi, without any more delay. However, experts predict that ratification won’t happen overnight and it’s going to take some more time. Though some Wi-Fi vendors( Cisco, Aruba, Trapeze) have already launched 802.11n products, technology installations may happen only in the middle of 2008.

6. Short-range wireless technologies that will create a buzz
Short-range wireless technology is not just about Bluetooth anymore. New entrants like High-speed Bluetooth, Wireless USB and ZigBee are getting traction too. Demand for high data transfer rates has increased over the years with the increase in video and audio content on portable devices like mobile phones, laptops as well as on multimedia projectors and television sets. Though high-speed Bluetooth is in its primary stage of development, it is expected to be 100 times faster than the current technology.
This next-generation Bluetooth will hopefully hit the market in 2008. Wireless USB is targeting 1Gbps throughput. Vendors have already introduced wireless USB hubs, adapters and laptops in the market. However, wide adoption of the technology depends on how soon it is going to be embedded into digital cameras, camcoders, MP3 players etc.ZigBee is the wireless connection used by sensors and control devices. It is expected to find traction in commercial building automation in 2008.

7. No end in sight for high-definition (HD) war
Is the war between Blu-ray and HD DVD high-definition video formats never ending? Well, there, definitely, is an end. But that may not be in 2008 Analysts in the industry predict that the high-definition war may last for another year and a few months. There is a strong market position for both the standards currently and this makes it difficult to predict the winner. Meanwhile, there has been no improvement in the sales of both the technologies this year as consumers still feel both Blu-ray and HD DVD are expensive.
On the other hand, Toshiba recently introduced comparatively low priced HD DVD players. This initiative definitely poses a challenge for Blu-Ray companies. To cope with this, they will have to cut down the hardware prices of Blu-ray. If that happens, the war will continue for some more time.

8. Shift from magnetic to solid-state hard drives
At present, the market is dominated by magnetic hard drives. But the future seems to be of solid-state hard drives as magnetic hard drives have limited data transfer speed. Solid-state hard drives are based on flash memory and is much faster memory solution. They also have advantages such as low noise and low power consumption. High pricing is the primary hindering factor for solid-state hard drives to become mainstream.
If prices fall down, we can see a slow shift happening from magnetic to solid-state hard drives in 2008.

9. Is 2008 going to be a banner year for wireless?
We no more worry about the clutter of wires. Offices have gone wireless. Cities are going wireless. All portable devices have embedded wireless technologies. We are moving fast towards a ‘wire-free’ world. So, 2008, beyond doubt, is going to see much more technology developments. Though the ‘wireless’ world won’t be a true reality so soon, the need for seamless mobility and freedom is surely going to drive more wireless technology advancements. The upcoming 802.11n will redefine enterprise networking in the coming year.
Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC) will tie fixed and mobile networks to deliver enhanced user experience. 2008 is expected to be the year of Mobile WiMax as well. Above all these, 2008 will probably witness open access to all networks, which in turn will open up more opportunities.

10. The ‘iPhone mania’ to continue
iPhone rates as the most memorable new product for 2007. Yes, it literally shook the mobile phone world in 2007. Now, doubtlessly, companies would love to follow Apple’s path by introducing similar products. So, 2008 is certainly going to see mobile phones with more and more web services and multimedia functionalities integrated into it. So, 2008 could very well be a year of ‘iPhone-like’ products from Apple’s rivals.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Enterprises consider ERP as the most bandwidth hungry application

Enterprises today are using a number of bandwidth hungry applications. But ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) solutions are seen consuming huge bandwidth. I caught up with D. Venkata Subramanian, vice president - IT & Projects, GFA (Global Franchise Architects (GFA) is a Switzerland based group which franchises seven food service brands across the world. Pizza Corner and Coffee World are their most popular brands in India), to talk about,

The applications that need higher bandwidth?
Presently, most of the organizations are spread across the country/globe. They need to get connected to their branch offices. Thus, broadband becomes a basic need for enterprises. Apart from that, broadband connection helps enterprises to make use of voice and video applications for communication.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution is the most bandwidth intensive application and it's been deployed by a whole lot of enterprises, especially in India. Other services like global help desk support based on the web-enabled application require a good amount of bandwidth to communicate with their clients.
Technology do they prefer to access broadband and why?
We prefer DSL (Digital Subscriber Line). We have found this technology to be commanding and clear-cut. It's a flexible solution for today's enterprises and gives the highest speed.
The best thing about DSL is that it helps to reduce cost in an enterprise because there is no need to implement expensive infrastructure and for infrastructure upgrades.
There is no need for new phone lines or new equipments. As I mentioned earlier, most importantly, it delivers data in blazing speeds. We feel, DSL is the best way to transfer digital video and data to businesses.

Apart from that, DSL is easy to use. So, we need not give additional training to the users. It gives a better option instead of depending on the unstable dial up connections. DSL makes telework programs happen easily. DSL is already deployed and accepted by numerous enterprises and is thus emerging as a standard.

Disadvantages with DSL?
I don't want to say that DSL is a perfect solution in all manners. There are certainly some disadvantages. The one disadvantage that we have found is that DSL is distance sensitive. So services are decided based on the distance between the customer's and the service provider's offices.

It's the service provider's call to give connection to distant locations. Of course, most of the metropolitan areas are provided with DSL. But, when it comes to rural areas, distance from the service provider's office becomes an issue.

'Need of the moment' for enterprises and the future demands
Enterprises are demanding more and more bandwidth and they need to be connected all the time. So, the need of the moment is to get maximum uptime.The future demands compel the need for good and consistent speed, secured connection and affordable price.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Broadband helps enterprises to centralize storage

Enterprises, especially in India, are increasingly adopting broadband as an effective business tool. One such interesting application of braoadband is the 'centralized storage' model which helps businesses to cut down cost and increase productivity. I had a discussion with Praveen Ganapathy, director- business development, consumer & automotive corporate business development, Texas Instruments India about,

The factors that push the growth of broadband among enterprises

PG: I think the key drive of broadband among enterprises itself is the coming out of lots of high bandwidth applications. People use more bandwidth hungry applications like video conferencing, high definition, U-Tube etc

At the same time, in countries like India, enterprises are fast adopting a thin client work model where the storage and applications are on the server.High bandwidth connection helps to centralize your storage and bandwidth hu8ngry applications and thus reduce cost. It also gives people the flexibility of working from home. It also allows them to work on the move. This in turn helps improve productivity.I think, primarily, broadband helps reduction in infrastructure cost through the model of centralized application and storage.

India has more than 2 million broadband users. The Union Minister for Communications and IT, Dayanidhi Maran, has declared 2007 as year broadband and to hit a goal of 9 million users by this year-end. This is going to push broadband further in India. Apart from that, upcoming technologies like Wimax are helping to accelerate the growth of broadband.

The technology options for broadband and upcoming technologies

PG: The dominating technologies in the broadband arena are DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) and cable modems. While in US, cable modems remain the major technology; UK and India depend mainly on DSL. US is also deploying technologies like 'Fibre To The Home (FTTH)'which can give much higher level of bandwidth. Wimax is emerging as a viable option especially in India where the infrastructure for wired connection is still very poor.

So, technology adoption is purely regional. TI believes that that over time, DSL and cable modems are going to shift to FTTH. TI is also working on technologies like ADSL2, cable modems and Wimax.

Trends in the Indian broadband industry

PG: We are more bullish about wireless technologies in driving the broadband adoption especially in countries like India. Compelling services can actually drive broadband growth. Today customers are demanding more than data through broadband. Once the operators start delivering new services like Video, IPTV etc, broadband will become a basic necessity.

But, I still feel that two million connections is a very small number, in a country of this size. And the target of 9 million connections by the end of this year seems to be a tough task. We really need huge investment to boost the broadband industry in India. Broadband has wider scope in rural areas especially in the areas of healthcare and education. The government has plans to deploy broadband right from the Panchayath level. It's a very positive trend.

Since infrastructure is going to be a problem, wireless may be a better option for rural connectivity. So, lots of industry players are betting on one or the other sort of wireless technology for India. I would say, technically wireless is more feasible for India.

A comparison of the Indian market with other countries' markets

PG: I would say India is pretty slow in adopting broadband. In US they have almost 200 million broadband connections. In India we are still talking about hitting nine million. But, in one way, it's a positive trend. It's going to be more painful for developed countries to shift to emerging wireless technologies like Wimax, because they have already spend enough money on the installed infrastructure.

But in India, the investment so far has been very low. So we can actually skip some intermediate steps in broadband technology adoption and directly implement wireless technologies.

The other major difference is in the demand of customers. In India, the demand is still for data. In developed countries, the demand is more for high definition video content and other such services. In India, of course, we have voice, IPTV etc coming in a larger way. Online gaming is other such potential application, which is likely to drive the need for broadband in India.

The issues to be addressed immediately and in a long run

PG: For the customers, the only thing that matters is the content being delivered through broadband. You are not going to pay for the water pipe, you pay only for the water. In fact, in future, the operators are going to give free broadband connection. BSNL has already declared that they will give 2Mbps connection free by 2009. Later on, services like voice, video on demand, online gaming etc are likely to be delivered free of cost and the operators will be able to address the ARPU (average revenue per user) concerns.

The only key issue, which delays the adoption of broadband in India, is the lack of a right business model. I believe the revenue is going to come from value added services. And we need to find answers for- 'who's going to provide content? How do we ensure content security? What is the revenue model?' etc. for example, we have already started seeing trails on IPTV.

But, there is no content aggregator in India for IPTV. In the West, there are for combining content from everywhere and put it together. So the ecosystem for value added service needs to be evolved in India. And we need to have clarity on regulatory issues. We also need to ensure the quality of services being delivered through broadband. The customers are already used to some experience. So the broadband players need to deliver something better than that to make them happy.

The other challenge, in India is the cost. People want high bandwidth connection in lower cost. We need to really reduce the cost.

New services that have got greater demand among broadband customers

PG: Apart from standard broadcast TV, VoIP, video on demand, there is an emerging need for home security applications. Now, broadband customers can actually place camera in their homes and get alerts on their mobile phone if something goes wrong. Video conferencing is another future application.

As I mentioned, centralizing storage and application is the emerging trend among enterprises. A lot of revenue can be made from reality shows, MMS etc. So telecom industry has got a big role to play in driving the broadband adoption.I believe, high bandwidth secured connection is really what broadband is all about. It can enable a lot of applications like entertainment, education and healthcare. So the content is the key and the customers need to like that content. So ultimately, customer is the kingmaker.

Broadband is directly related to the country's GDP growth

Increased broadband proliferation can create a real IT revolution in India. However the country needs to work harder to get the best out of broadband and related services. I had caught up with Vinnie Mehta, executive director, MAIT (Manufacturers' Association For Information Technology) a few days back to talk about;

The broadband scenario in India

VM: There is absolutely no denying that Broadband is a very critical efficiency resource for any organization. We can't think of not being connected anymore. I think the broadband penetration is still very poor in India. The television sector stands as a good example for the broadband sector.

In early 80's when we had the Asian games, the government allowed the cable industry, which was a non-regulatory industry, to grow. What that led to was an enormous amount of content. Today we have hundreds of channels available on our television. TV penetration, along with viewer ship increased dramatically and thus TV became a very important medium for mass communication.

Unfortunately when we look at creating an IT revolution in the country, we realize that we have probably missed out some of the elements. Broadband penetration in India is pretty low. Apart from that, for the entire cycle to happen, along with broadband, we need the right content, especially in local languages.

Contents will also imply applications and services ride on the broadband infrastructure. The lack of content in turn results in very slow proliferation of broadband infrastructure. As a result, we are not able to harness the economic growth in the country. So, I believe broadband has direct relation with the country's GDP growth. If there were a plethora of services available on broadband infrastructure, it would clearly lead to economic growth.

The market opportunities

VM: I feel, India really need to push hard on the broadband because it is one of the very critical infrastructures that we are severely lacking. If India wants to focus on being a knowledge driven country, broadband is very important. But it does not mean that there is no hope in the country for broadband growth.

The government has taken some initiatives. This year has been declared as the year of broadband. By 2010, the government wants to achieve 40 million Internet connections out of which 60 per cent is expected to be broadband connections.

And, if you look at the market opportunity, it's really huge. 20 million broadband connections also mean 20 million set top boxes. 40 million Internet connections will lead to 40 million front-end devices. If broadband proliferates and achieves the targets that have been set for it, it is going to be a bonanza for the hardware sector.

The limitations of copper for delivering broadband and the other technology options

VM: India depends largely on copper for broadband delivery. Copper has limitations in delivering high bandwidth connection. In India we still deliver only 256 kbps, though in countries like UK, they were able to deliver up to 10 Mbps through copper.

Of course the government is trying hard to increase it. However, copper is somewhat limiting the capacity for delivering broadband. It can deliver only so much. The other option is to lay fibers which will be an expensive process.

We can also embrace wireless technologies. Wimax is emerging as a viable option, but again availability of spectrum for Wimax remains an issue. We need to be clearer on this. For a country like India, which is so vast in its geography, wireless makes more sense.

The need of enterprises to invest in broadband

VM: Broadband acts as a mechanism of delivering so many services. For enterprises, there is always an economic value- add from these services. For example, the cost of VoIP would be one be one by tenth of that of the normal phone calls.

Video conferencing not only saves money but helps us save time and stress of traveling from one place to the other. Right use of the technology always saves money and time for enterprises. Broadband is the best of example of that. So, it definitely makes sense for enterprises to invest in broadband.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Why Internet users have turned their backs to the slow and unstable dial-up connections?

We no more wait around for internet pages to open. Nor do we struggle to shift huge files to our PCs. We have forgotten the meaning of booking a trunk call to talk to our dear ones. Now we do it through Voice over IP (VoIP). In a nut-shell, Broadband access has literally done magic to our lives by enabling us to do so many things through internet which we were never able to think of, with a dial-up connection.

As we grow more and more 'bandwidth-hungry', the need for a high-speed broadband connection became just the basic necessity. Be it Seoul, the most well connected city in the world, or the 'striving hard to be networked' Bangalore, broadband access is in everybody's wish list.Various market research firms have predicted that the worldwide broadband subscribers will exceed 400 million by the end of 2010 against the 270 million subscriber base of 2006. This number is expected to increase drastically over the coming years.

Voice and video, pushing it forward

Data used to be the only demand of the enterprise broadband users, until last couple of years. Now, a set of promising 'value-added services' has entered into the space of broadband applications. "What we see now is a new trend. Apart from using the broadband for accessing internet, people now want services like VoIP, video on demand (VoD) and some home security applications," says Praveen Ganapathy, director- business development, consumer & automotive corporate business development, Texas Instruments India.

Recent consumer surveys show that about 78 per cent of the broadband users are interested in at least one of the value added services offered through high-bandwidth connections. VoIP remains one of the top-listed services demanded by the customers. Enterprises are the fast adopters of this service, which help them control overhead and add more value to business. In the beginning, the quality of VoIP calls used to be pretty bad. Now, it's gradually increasing and it is expected to be as good as today's analogue calls by the year 2009. However, it is now hard to satisfy the customers only with voice.

When it comes to video, customers prefer to get interactive video content and video on demand through their broadband connection. Bandwidth-intensive multimedia applications are further pushing the need for high-speed broadband connection. Instead of offering one or two services, companies now started providing triple play and multi play services through broadband.
IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) is considered as the 'killer app' delivered through broadband. The worldwide subscription of IPTV hit 3.6 million last year and is expected to grow aggressively during this year.

In India, public sector service providers like BSNL and MTNL, along with many other players, made IPTV debut possible this year.Video home security is also growing as a latest trend among broadband users. Video conferencing is the major application getting popular among enterprises. Broadband help them centralize storage and thus to adopt the 'thin client' work model to cut down the cost. ERP remains one of the key drivers for broadband among enterprises.

Promising but hard future for India

Though wide spread, broadband is not benefiting every citizen even in the developed countries. US President George Bush has just promised that 'every corner' of the country will be provided with high speed internet by the end of this year. But reports predict that Bush's goal would be tough to achieve.For a country like India, which has a huge population base, broadband has many purposes to serve. Though the growth of the telecom industry is a favoring factor, broadband penetration is still very low in India.

The target set for this year-end by the government is to hit 9 million broadband subscribers whereas there is only just above 2 million broadband subscribers at present in the country. So, it is going to be a Himalayan task for the government and the industry to hit the goals. However, the rising wireless technologies and dipping rates are likely to boost up the process of broadband adoption in India. As a whole, the idea of 'getting connected' itself is very appealing to any user.

However, applications, which are more bandwidth intensive, are not yet popular in India.Once the demand for such applications is created, the broadband market in India would probably see a huge jump.