Tsunami of consumer tech to hit the corporate world

23 Nov 2011

With ultrabooks likely to make up 40pc of notebooks that will ship next year, 2012 will be the year of the ultrabook. The director of Intel Labs Europe Prof Martin Curley says ultrabooks will be the formal manifestation of the consumerisation of IT.

Curley, the driving force behind the Innovation Value Institute sums up the consumerisation of IT perfectly: “It comes from two things: the satisfaction that people get from great technology they have in their personal lives and the sinking feeling when they arrive into the corporate environment and have to use crap technology.

“They want technology that is easy and seamless and technologies like the ultrabook form factor highlight the tsunami of consumer tech that is coming to the workplace. The ultrabook will become the world’s mainstream notebook. Forty per cent of notebooks that will ship next year will be ultrabooks. On the one hand, you could think of them as a fashion item, but the performance and battery life will speak for themselves,” said Curley, who is the keynote speaker at tomorrow’s Year Zero event organised by Microsoft and Ergo.

The arrival of Apple’s MacBook Air in July this year signalled the dawn of the ultrabook age with its distinctive razor-thin form factor belying powerful advances in computing in terms of Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and ThunderBolt connection technology.

“Think of ultrabooks as the formal manifestation of consumerisation of IT in the business world.”

Curley says the delineation between content consumption and content creation, or the battle between tablet computers and notebooks, will take on a new shape. At the moment, tablet computers like the iPad 2 are winning.

“Are tablet computers going to take over? I think there’s exciting things happening in both tablet computers and ultrabooks. While I think tablet computers will be great for consuming information, I believe ultrabooks will be the ultimate content creation device. Tablets are a fantastic innovation and we’ve been waiting 10 years for its moment and Apple created the architectural innovation that took available components and discovered a way to add value.

“The ultrabook is a realisation of the need to create content and enjoy the use of a powerful, energy efficient but very light form factor.”

Age of digital consciousness

Curley forecasts the emergence of a mobility-centric world. “We are currently witnessing the birth of a whole new global ecosystem. While people are busy writing mobile apps that provide us with knowledge, expect a new generation of apps that will drive information from the tablet, smartphone and ultrabook back out to the cloud.

“We are coming into a world of ambient intelligence. By the middle of the decade there will be 15bn connected devices on the planet. Many of these will be ‘sensing’ devices that are proactive and context-aware. Among the many business paradigms that will have to change is the move towards sustainability. Expect some of next year’s devices, including a number of ultrabook models, for example, to include environmental sensors.

“This new age will drive better resource optimisation – think of a world that has harnessed the powerful collective intelligence of people and machines and aggregate that data via the cloud to get big data in a way that wasn’t possible. Knowledge sweeping from sensors and devices will tell people about traffic, air quality, noise pollution and get them to the parking spot in the city without any difficulty.

“We are entering the world of frictionless commerce and living and at the heart of this the cloud will shape everything.”

The emergence of the ‘intercloud’

One of the big challenges the cloud computing world faces, indeed the entire networked economy, Curley believes, will be the emergence of the intercloud.

“Amazon with its EC2 is doing great work and Microsoft’s Azure heralds great advances in software. But the critical problem that lies ahead is businesses and people navigating all these walled gardens. We are at a pivotal moment but in the next few years the world will need to move in the direction of the intercloud, or the internet of clouds.

“I think we’re a couple of years away from a collective decision point. Openness is ultimately the way and hopefully that will be the answer.”

Curley believes that cloud computing will ultimately be the main standard for computing. “At the beginning of the 20th century every factory had to have its own electricity generator and today everyone is on the electricity grid. I think in the computing world we’re about to make that transition. We will get all out bytes online in the same way we get our electrons online – it maximises utilisation and is economical for lots of reasons.

“Moore’s Law is continuing – it is one of the few modern business phenomena that works with sustainability. We are now routinely seeing 10 servers being replaced with one server. For proponents of the cloud to see the cloud succeed they need to focus on SLAs (service level agreements) and ensure the arrival of the dependable cloud. Some prominent services only hit on a number of parameters, what businesses want are higher levels of dependability.”

The economy, the people, the technology

Ergo managing director John Purdy said that the consumerisation of IT is beginning to shape how companies, particularly SME businesses, are deploying new infrastructure. “Firms are reducing the IT footprint and are moving the whole hotdesk environment to virtual desks. Within Ergo only 70 out of 175 people work in our building.

“In the marketplace, we’re seeing a lot more discussions occurring around the deployment of virtual desktop services. People just need connect points in the office, at home and on the road. They want to work anywhere on any device.

“The latest version of Microsoft CRM Dynamics, for example, includes tight integration with Facebook and LinkedIn. These are being seen as ways of collaborating and driving business activity.”

Purdy said that ultimately it’s not about tablets or notebooks, but workers today deciding they want to work on the devices they’re most comfortable with.

“By 2014, the number of tablet computes will outstrip the number of desktops shipped that year. Think about the cultural challenges that the workplace of 2020 will bring, where there will be five generations working in any organisation compared with three today. People of our generation will work and compete with digital natives who will, on average, have 10,000 hours of video gaming experience each.

“The key for any organisation today is to realise they need to shed expensive and unnecessary overheads and equip their people to be mobile, digital, more productive and ultimately, more customer facing,” Purdy said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years