Looking back at M'sian tech developments

As the year winds down, I thought it good for me to recap what I believe to be a couple of developments in the technology scene in Malaysia.The year started cautiously with many industry pundits being unsure of how the larger economy woes would affect the ICT industry as a whole.

As the year winds down, I thought it good for me to recap what I believe to be a couple of developments in the technology scene in Malaysia.

The year started cautiously with many industry pundits being unsure of how the larger economy woes would affect the ICT industry as a whole. Some predicted that the country will still see growth in the ICT sector, albeit, at a much slower pace; others were less bullish, preferring to err on the safer side by predicting a slow year ahead.

I remembered covering some events as early as March in which panelists and press conference spokespersons noted how important it was that companies take stock of their financial situation and growth strategy plans for the year.

But whilst doing so, many of them also noted that it will be more prudent for enterprises--large or small--to evaluate how they could consolidate their IT assets and invest wisely in infrastructure and services that would put them on a good footing when the economy does recover, instead of just paring down completely.

Their rationale was that companies that completely cut their budgets would not be able to ramp up quickly enough when the economy bounces back compared with those who have invested wisely or have looked into housekeeping matters during the downtime.

With this in mind, vendors have been pushing companies to consider the so-called cloud computing concept. Many vendors and analysts have their own definition as to what exactly is cloud computing but majority of them subscribe to the view that cloud computing is about the provision of services (hardware/software/resources) across distributed IT resources accessed via the Internet.

Cloud computing touts the ability to share resources thereby creating a more agile IT system such that enterprises that are on the cloud are able to better manage their IT infrastructure according to their needs, cut costs and better respond to the business challenges that arise.

But like many new concepts and technology that hit the market, hype precedes reality. Like the heydays earlier this decade when vendors declared that third generation mobile Internet has arrived and proclaimed how it was about to change the world but never did until five years later, the reality is that cloud computing is still very nascent, at least in Malaysia.

Somewhat connected to cloud computing is virtualization, a concept that is touted to reduce costs and lower energy consumption by enabling organizations to use more of the computing power that they already own. I would dare say all vendors are pushing some form of virtualization in the products lines and the many stories that have come out of the press attest to this.

But in carrying out research for a story on cloud computing and virtualization a few months ago, I found it hard to find local companies, if any, who had implemented cloud computing, and to a lesser extent, virtualization in their environments this year.

On the ground, it seems that there is still a lot of fuzziness as to what cloud computing is. And in times like these, return-on-investment (ROI) is everything and customers are unlikely to invest, unless they can be shown their returns concretely. Simply put, the benefit of the cloud is not yet compelling for most customers.

And some other fundamental issues that must be addressed if cloud computing were to gain traction in Malaysia, namely the quality of the broadband infrastructure and security in the cloud.

As for virtualization, while the concept is sound, smaller companies are still not fully convinced that their capital layouts are going to offset their initial investments.

To be fair, not all vendors are trumpeting that cloud and virtualization will save the day. One vendor I spoke with conceded that the cloud and even virtualization are not for everyone. Another I spoke to said that are at least three stages for companies to move into the cloud, with many of them still languishing at the beginning stages of the curve.

So it remains to be seen what happens in the coming year, as another vendor I spoke to admitted that much more will need to be done to educate the industry and enterprises in Malaysia about the benefits of cloud computing.

The other much talked about development that has seen traction in the past year is broadband. While there are still issues surrounding broadband in Malaysia, the competition that has ramped up in the past year has generally been good for Malaysians.

With the increased competition, the pricing of many of the broadband plans has become very affordable. Also, coverage in many areas has also improved and small enterprises in particular can have a choice of service providers--which is always a good thing.

But while the basic broadband infrastructure in the country is there, much still needs to be done in ensuring that the country sustains a high quality of service to the business community. All eyes will be on the implementation of the so-called high-speed broadband (HSBB) project by incumbent operator, Telekom Malaysia as it is expected to be the catalyst for the next phase of economic growth in the country.

The year may have started slowly and cautiously but I'd expect it to pick up quite a fair bit in 2010. After all, as they say, if you're at rock bottom, the only way it can go is up. Meanwhile, till I blog again at the beginning of the year, here's wishing all in the industry my very best for the coming year.