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Four technologies that will shape 2012 solutions

Four technologies are expected to drive solution provider businesses in 2012. These include Android smartphones and the business-friendly ultrabook.

Yes, we know hardware, software and other infrastructure gear are merely parts of IT solutions these days.

Yes, we know that very few truly value-added resellers obsess (that much) over product margins.

And, yes, we know most of you are leery of recommending first-generation anything, unless you bill yourself as a provider of leading-edge innovative solutions.

But, pretty much every technology solution provider is a closet geek. What’s more, technology is at the heart of IT solutions. So, spoke with solution providers about the products and technology categories most likely to drive their designs and deployments in 2012. Here are four technology themes that emerged, in no particular order:

#1: Get ready for “ultrabooks”
For those of us who still require or desire a keyboard as an input device, but who don’t want to skimp on features, there is a fast-emerging new portable computer form factor, the “ultrabook.”

Systems that fall into the ultrabook category are defined as those that are less than 0.8 inches thick and that offer a full-fledged operating system. They might also boast some of the consumer electronics features that many of us have come to crave, such as always-connected wireless capabilities, solid state drives, longer battery lives and even instant-on. The price range (ideally) is sub-$1,000. Perhaps the best-known example of this product type is the MacBook Air.

In November 2011, research firm IHS iSuppli forecasted that the ultrabook category would claim about 43% of the total global notebook PC market share by 2015. That is up from about 2% in 2011.

It doesn’t hurt that Intel has become a big supporter of the concept. Intel’s ultrabook design calls for second-generation core microprocessors and the forthcoming Microsoft Windows 8. Among the early proponents are Acer and Asustek.

“Ultrabooks just make sense for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is because they just work,” said Kevin McDonald, executive vice president for managed service provider Alvaka Networks Inc., in Irvine, Calif. “I don’t really think this will affect tablets as much as it will affect netbooks. Netbooks will definitely get squeezed.”

ISuppli also said ultrabooks could represent a paradigm shift for the technology industry. In its latest comments about the category, the firm writes: “With the introduction of the Ultrabook, the computing industry is poised for yet another paradigm shift. The technology now exists that actually could bring about a convergence of major mobile devices. If an attractive price point can be achieved and the consumer deems this a must-have product, the entire semiconductor manufacturing supply chain could rapidly reorient itself to serve the fast-growing Ultrabook market. Such an event could end the current slowdown in the semiconductor and electronics manufacturing industries.”

#2: Video applications usage will continue to climb
The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that as of its May 2011 survey, 71% of adult Americans revealed they were using the Internet to view video information. In addition, a growing percentage of Americans are now doing this on the run: A Nielsen poll from October 2011 found that at least one-third of mobile device users engage regularly with video on their smartphone.

Both of these trends point to accelerating use of video applications within work environments, solution providers said.

“People are coming up with all sorts of interesting applications for webcams as they become more ubiquitous,” said Mauro Lollo, chief technology officer at Genuit Inc., a business solutions developer in Oakville, Ontario. “It isn’t just videoconferencing. We’re talking about building and home video surveillance, remote design reviews -- applications that really make use of digital cameras.”

#3: The urge to converge continues just published a story in early December about the pick-up in converged infrastructure solutions, and the topic came up again when solution providers were asked to identify busy areas for 2012.

Now, the movement is starting to spread beyond early enterprise adopters into the midmarket. The impetus appears to be preparation work for private cloud deployments that allow businesses to treat IT services as utility resources within their own companies.

“We have definitely seen a pick-up in momentum over 2011, and 2012 will continue that trend,” especially within large enterprises, said Chris Ward, vice president of consulting and integration for GreenPages Technology Solutions, a consulting and integration company in Kittery, Me. “When projects come up, when we are talking to people about private cloud initiatives, this is where our attention lies. Increasingly, midmarket companies are getting involved.”

That means a whole range of complex services to support these deployments beyond the initial design and implementation, such as capacity planning, provisioning, automation and monitoring, Ward said.

A word of caution: Converged doesn’t necessarily mean that companies will readily adopt pre-integrated building blocks combining server, storage and networking capabilities. Be leery of the one-size-fits-all approach, solution providers say, while striving to keep it simple.

#4: “A” isn’t just for Apple, it’s for Android
While no one is naïve enough to suggest Apple won’t continue to be a huge force in touchscreen smartphones and media tablets -- after all, it pretty much pioneered both categories. Android devices have claimed an avalanche of market share this year and will continue to do so in the next 12 months.

Market research company Nielsen reported in late September that Android smartphones had reached a penetration rate of 43% of all smartphone users. More than half of “recent acquirers” (56%) had bought an Android device, and the close ties of Android with Google applications is proving to be a boon among users who are considering smartphones as much for their professional lives as for their personal lives.

“Changes in share aside, the smartphone pie is getting bigger,” wrote Don Kellogg, director of telecom research and insights for Nielsen, in a blog about the data.

Android is poised to have a potentially bigger impact on the media tablet category (i.e., tablets with touchscreens and substantial video support that were designed for consumers but snapped up for business uses). Earlier this year, Gartner Inc. predicted that by 2015 the market share for Android tablets would reach about 39% of the total market. That compares with almost 20% in 2011. Much of that growth will come at the expense of the Apple iPad platform. During the same time frame, that product’s share will slip to slightly more than 47%, compared with the 68.7% market hold it had in 2011, according to Gartner forecasts.

“Not many businesses understand just how quickly this is happening,” said Tom Gobeille, president and CEO of Network Computing Architects (NCA) Inc., a solution provider in Bellevue, Wash. “The adoption of this sort of technology is having a big impact on business culture, on workflow, on security.”

So much so that NCA plans a new business process consulting service in 2012 specifically to deal with the operational and organizational impacts that mobile devices will have on small and midsize businesses.

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years’ experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

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