Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ten technology trends that will shape 2008

Grid computing

India is the fastest adopter of grid computing in the world, according to Oracle’s Grid Index IV. Oracle should know, since it has 70 customers in India using its grid solutions.

Grid computing is applying the resources of many computers in a network to a single problem at the same time. It is not a new phenomenon. Research organisations, government agencies and universities have been using this concept for years. What’s new is that Indian corporates are now latching on to the concept.

Some of the enterprises using grid computing in India include the Gujarat Electricity Board, Saraswat Bank, National Stock Exchange, Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation, General Insurance Company, Syndicate Bank, Ashok Leyland, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd and Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad.

Last year saw two major developments that will prove important for the adoption and acceptance of grid computing in India. First was the Computational Research Laboratories (CRL) — a subsidiary of Tata Sons —developing Eka, the world’s fourth fastest computer and two the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing’s (CDAC’s) Garuda finally got off the ground.

For all those chief technology officers who are constantly looking at reducing their hardware costs Grid Computing may provide an answer, say analysts. Traditionally, companies bought hardware to support certain applications. However, these applications have peak processing hours and slack time. Grid computing takes advantage of the slack time and transfers the processing loads on systems that are being underutilised.

“Indian businesses are going global. As part of their growth strategy, they have to take risks and decisions – whether it means investing in people or technology. Organisations from sectors like telecom, financial services, travel, construction & engineering, media and utilities are convinced of the benefits of grid computing because it allows for superior scalability and better return on investment,” explains SPS Grover, vice-president, Technology Business Unit, Oracle India.

Sunny side up

Photovoltaics (PV) promise to remain a hot topic in 2008. PV is the creation of electricity from a light source – sunlight, for instance.

A basic photovoltaic, also known as a solar cell, is made of materials like silicon and thin-filaments, commonly used in the micro-electronics industry. These are capital-intensive projects. PV modules connect many solar cells together and mount them on a frame or platform. Their margins are better.

India is becoming an attractive solar market, and IT firms like Moser Baer, Signet Solar and Webel Solar are confident of the growth. The recent semiconductor policy sops and the government policy for “off-grid” electrification, are added incentives.

Electricity and social development go hand in hand. Rural areas of India are so far-flung that in some cases the small population and high cost of laying down power lines may not make it a viable proposition.

Conventional generator sets too may not be feasible due to recurring maintenance problems. The best solution under the circumstances is solar PV-based systems to generate power, run irrigation sets, heat water and lighting up homes and streetlights.

India offers 100 per cent subsidy on solar PV systems for remote village electrification; and for villages with electricity, the government offers 60 per cent subsidy. Moser Baer’s $880 million (around Rs 3,500 crore) 8-year sourcing tie-up with Norway based, REC Group furthers this line of thinking.

The deal could get Moser Baer Photo Voltaic (MBPV) around $1 billion in revenues over the period of the contract. The global photovoltaic market is expected to grow over six times to $40 billion by 2010.

Software on demand

Software-as-a-service or (Saas) is a trend that will see considerable uptake among business users, say analysts. Saas is a software application delivery model, wherein the user pays according to the usage rather than for owning the software (license fee).

With close to eight million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in India, Saas providers can start counting cash in 2008. Ravi Shekhar Pandey, research manager, Springboard Research, feels that the year 2007 was of creating awareness among the users and 2008 will finally see Saas’ adoption increasing.

“Earlier Salesforce.com was the only vendor that was propagating the concept in India. But now even traditional software vendors like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP have introduced Saas in their suite of offerings,” he adds.

“In 2006-07, 79 per cent of the companies that we spoke to were aware of the concept but in 2007 it has increased to 90 per cent,” Pandey adds.

Enterprise mobility

The concept of anywhere-anytime connectivity has changed the way enterprises do business today. Connectivity is not just restricted to the globetrotting top executives but also to the sales team on the field. IDC projects that by 2009, there will be around 880 million mobile workers worldwide demonstrating that mobility is going mainstream.

Companies like Sun Pharmaceuticals, Dr Reddy’s and Parryware, a division of EID Parry (India) are some examples where handhelds have been used to automate the sales force for real-time information.

Rajiv Sehgal, head (Value Added Services), Airtel Enterprise Services in a seminar on enterprise mobility said, “Enterprises are implementing mobile solutions to realise benefits in terms of product enhancement.” Analysts predict that banking and financial segment is one segment that has a huge opportunity in going mobile.

Go mobile and entertain

Entertainment devices will abound this year. They will be with you on the move (your laptops, PDAs and cellphones), at airports, your workplace, home and more importantly, in your pockets. TVs (both LCDs and Plasmas) will becomes larger and cheaper, and so will high-end mobile screens, offering services like TV on mobile, gaming, social networking, etc.

Mobile TV — which enables TV services on handhelds such as mobiles, handheld TVs, car TV, GPS terminals, game devices, laptop PCs, and other portable devices — is also closer to seeing the light of day in India. It’s an important development given that there are almost 225 million mobiles in the country, of which around 30-40 per cent are TV-capable. Besides, it will help increase the average realisation per user (ARPU) for telecom operators.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has already initiated the process, and given its recommendations on January 3 based on the feedback it received from around 30 telecom players, broadcasters, technology providers and direct-to-home (DTH) players in September 2007.

The world over, a number of mobile operators have conducted successful mobile TV field trials. Mobile broadcasting commercial services have been introduced in countries like Korea, the US, Finland, and Germany.

In India too, Doordarshan has launched a Mobile TV pilot project, and is in the process of introducing commercial Mobile TV services. UK-based mobile applications developer ROK Entertainment Group too has launched its streamed mobile TV system (called Tiny TV) in India through BSNL.

Entertainment will also become increasingly interactive. IOL Broadband already started the trend by launching India's first IP-based on-demand television service (IPTV) a year ago. With IPTV offering from players like MTNL, Bharti and Reliance, the ‘on-demand’ entertainment is music to the ears of most people. It will also help increase the revenue for broadcasters and mobile operators.

Virtual nightmares ride high

Cybercrime is estimated to be a $105 billion market and looks set to grow this year as the complexity of cybercrimes intensifies.

The year 2008 is expected to be a year of an exponential increase in the activities of cyber criminals. Phishing — an attempt to criminally and fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details continues to be a major concern during the year, claim security vendors.

Theft of intellectual property is expected to be another grave issue which needs to be tackled in the new year. “India is in the process of acquiring special technologies for cyber and digital frauds, international vendors of tools to trace cyber criminals, are now also showing interest in the Indain market,” says Computer Forensic Expert, Samir Datt.

Minister for Communication and Information Technology, A Raja, recently announced grants to enable the CBI install the latest technology enabling the investigative agency train officials in complex cybercrimes and also help in the mutual exchange of information with the Interpol.

The government is also in the process of amending the IT Act 2000 to address problems of data protection, data theft, e-commerce frauds and child pornography etc.

‘Open source’ makes inroads

‘Linux’— a free operating system (OS) as opposed to Microsoft Windows or Vista — is fast making inroads in the country.

Novell along with the Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT) is installing Suse Linux in around 40,000 desktops in the state.

This is the second-largest implementation of Linux on the desktop – the biggest one being that of around 60,000 desktops in Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India by Red Hat, which is estimated to have implemented over 200,000 desktop OS installations. Canara Bank too has around 10,000 Linux OS desktops.

Major firms and institutions like the LIC, Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI), IndiaBulls and HDFC use Linux on the servers, for “mission-critical” applications too.

Linux has gained the support of corporations such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Novell, and is used as an operating system for a wide variety of computer hardware, including desktop computers, supercomputers, and embedded devices such as mobile phones and routers.

In India, besides major firms, state governments in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Maharashtra too have started using Linux in a bid to promote “open-source” environments.

SMEs are picking up the cue since you can install Linux on your desktop or server and reduce your operation costs. Microsoft counters this line of thinking by saying that the total cost of ownership (TCO) of its OS is lower than that of Linux.

The open source community that promotes Linux pooh-poohs this argument. One fact, though, remains: Linux is robust, steady, virus-free to a great extent and most importantly, FREE. Which means you can download it from the Internet or get companies like Red Hat and Novell (in India) to install it on your machines and provide maintenance services for a nominal fee.

Linux on the desktop is not as popular as Linux on the server. The reason is that Linux as an OS is a little difficult to use, especially if you’ve been used to a Windows environment. For new users, it would hardly matter.

Moreover, the argument that Linux does not have adequate support and lacks drivers for audio, video and gaming hardly holds water any longer.

Face to face

If corporate security is the buzzword in 2008, then biometrics will be the most probable answer to all such concerns. Biometric solutions for industrial applications surged to Rs 150 crore as an industry, according to a Frost and Sullivan report.

Although 80 per cent of the biometrics business still comes from the corporate sector, but the adoption of biometric systems among residential complexes is rising steadily and is expected to bring in the next phase of growth in 2008.

Also gaining traction are biometric segments like iris scan, middleware, multi-modality, voice recognition and signature verification.

The Indian biometrics market, which mainly consists of access control applications, is used extensively by the Defence and Security industry and fingerprint identification systems by the police administration, is now rapidly moving towards biometric regime.

The finance ministry too has set up an internal group to finalise norms for introducing iris-based biometric Permanent Account Numbers (PANs) for all income tax payers.

Similarly, the Ministry of Home Affairs is toying with the idea of introducing biometrics-based citizen identity cards and even biometric passports. This could be the turning point for the industry which is targeting an over Rs 1,800 crore turnover this year.

Arguably, the cheaper biometric solutions like fingerprint readers are now common on consumers devices like mobiles and laptops. This biometric application contributed more than 70 per cent in revenues to the domestic biometrics market last year.

PCs are safe no longer

Back in 1983, when virus researcher Fred Cohen coined the term ‘computer virus’ - referring to a programme code that can explicitly copy itself and has the ability to affect other programmes by modifying them or their environment - a lot has happened. Viruses of yore have turned into malware, broadly defined as software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system.

The nightmare does not end here. Mutations of e-worms like Trojan horses, spyware, rootkits, dishonest adware, and other malicious software have crowded the cyber world.

Security vendors like McAfee, F-Secure, Symantec, MessageLabs and others agree that there will be a rise in the number of attacks seeking to capture a user's ID and password by displaying fake sign-in pages.

Analysts have also painted a grim picture about instant messaging (IM). Most web-based IM clients have become quite popular among the Web 2.0 generation. IM features like file transfers and webcam support, make it prone to the virus attacks and 2008 might just be the year for IM attacks in offices or home.

Flash memory

Mainstreaming of flash with several fabs being put into production happened early last year, with a vast majority of these fabs producing flash chips. We saw major technology companies introducing computers without disk drives, with flash being considerably faster and more durable.

With 64GB in flash memory now available, affordable, smaller solid-state disks will be hitting the mainstream in a big way, leading to more crash-resistant and faster laptops. The year 2008 will see flash-based storage making a move towards the datacentre both as a green and a faster access option.

Flash’s main contribution in India would be in making the handheld devices more competitive than the laptop PCs.

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