The 2007 IT top ten list

The best visual image I can think of to illustrate what happened in IT during 2007 involves icebergs; huge icebergs emerging from the mist to dominate the shipping channel ahead of us.

If I had to pick one word to describe 2007 it would be "emergence" - lots of things that were building up to change, changed. In politics George Bush got his mojo back: from stem cells and Iraq to his policies on Russia, climate change, and oil devaluation he's become the lame duck that stomps like an elephant. Worldwide, China edged closer to chaos, Isreal's wall worked for peace, and old Europe awoke to the demographic threat Mark Steyn has been talking about for a decade.

Amazing things happened in IT too, and just like the changes at the political level most of the big things that happened represented the emergence of hidden longer term trends into public view.

Scale is a big issue here - a simple 2007 top ten list doesn't show how much more important this year's inflection points were than last year's. Think, therefore, in terms of something like the Richter scale for earthquakes - with this year's top ten clustered near the high end.

That said, here's my list:

  1. Tied for first place among my top ten are two technology introductions. Sun got its CMT/SMP technologies established in the market - and Apple got the iPhone out.

    Neither technology is well understood in the marketplace. Thus people compare the iPhone to things like Blackberries but in reality the Blackberry is just the current stage in the evolution of pagers while the iPhone is what the Newton set out to be: the first in a class of hand held computers capable of handling the communications and memory functions traditionally associated with desktop computing. Wait a few years and it will morph into a full replacement for the ipod/laptop/cell phone combination, probably with plugin processor cards enabling special functions from health monitoring to wall projection and full voice input.

    Similarly most people think Sun's CMT technologies are about going multi-core and so compare it to things like Intel's quad core Xeons. This is wrong: CMT is much more about using threading and hardware parallelism to reduce the memory bottleneck for SMP multiprocessing than it is about putting multiple cores on a chip: thus an eight core T2 runs 64 concurrent threads, not 8 - and gives each thread full concurrent access to floating point, cryptology, and packet management hardware.

  2. In third place on my list is a nearly invisible change: the popularity of outsourcing IT to corporate entities indistinguishable by personnel or behavior from large internal IT groups reversed itself. Time-sharing picked up, as did both IT re-patriation and, to a much smaller extent, serious technology and IT management change.

  3. In fourth place is something that didn't happen: IBM did not introduce off the shelf super computers consisting of a rack, a customer specified number of cell processors, and a "thumper" like storage server. It did get high gigahertz Power6 cores into the market, but not the software and I/O flow control gear needed to make use of them - thus producing 4.7Ghz PPC machines that run like their 2.5Ghz predecessors and pushing its entire change strategy back far enough for internal opposition to Cell to dig in and quite possibly force another "future systems" retrenchment.

  4. Number five also consists of something that didn't happen: Windows Vista. Instead, many people forced to pay for it as part of a new computer purchase installed previously licensed Windows/XP products and the Vista product set as a whole followed the proud tradition set by Windows 3.3 and Windows ME for end of life product iterations based on copying Apple breakthroughs from years earlier - and failed.

    No "code red" class wintel upgrade enforcer emerged this year. According to Microsoft's fifth column this was because Microsoft's code quality and recommended operational procedures have improved - but cynics, including me, say it's because Vista failed to catch marketing fire and the server upgrades needed for the next great sales push aren't out yet.

  5. Sixth place goes to another iceberg just starting to break the surface: identity management, customer data confidentiality, and related information retention issues are becoming primary drivers for American corporate litigation proofing.

    Meanwhile patent litigation and greenmailing continued unabated and the democrats stalled tort reform in congress - for the seventh straight year since the current administration first floated it in early 2001.

  6. Number seven is the change at Intel. 2007 allowed the company to catch up with AMD - by resurrecting an abandoned multi-core line and making it smaller, and therefore faster and more power efficient, than AMD can; by using its media clout to market a plan to copy AMD on I/O flow management by late next year as if it were already embedded in its processors; and, above all, by not doing anything as stupid as buying NVidia.

  7. Number eight is the hole the gaming industry dug for itself. The WII proved an enormous success - but for the hardware, not the games software. Microsoft's X360 sold well by anyone else's standards but lost money for Microsoft - and the company continued to demonstrate its inability to transcend the x86 by writing boring games that run slowly on a three core, six thread, 3.2Ghz PPC. Sony's PS3, meanwhile, is catching fire as compiler improvements coupled with the sheer power of the cell engine make its versions of the same basic games everyone else sells more attractive, and Sony's selling power starts to establish more of the related home technologies in the market.

  8. Number nine is that Linux marketing didn't change even as the annointed enemies of all things right and Linux more or less evaporated in place - Torvalds continued to support Red Hat's anti-sun marketing by ranting against Solaris, but showed his real agenda by not taking up Jonathan Schwartz's invitation to discuss outstanding issues over a home cooked dinner; and IBM didn't settle with SCO but left directors at its Novell proxy praying for an SCO victory on appeal because they're otherwise going to face a clear fiduciary duty to take up the case against IBM.

  9. And, number ten is the emerging discussion of programming language support for both the grid and SMP approaches to parallel computing. Three years ago nobody, outside of some academics and a few geekheads working on OpenMP type solutions, cared - now it's front burner stuff at industry leaders including IBM and Sun, getting "airtime" in psuedo-academic journals like Communications of the ACM, and of interest to readers of blogs like this one.

Taken all in all, 2007 was a year of big changes coming to visibility - and its hard to see how 2008 will top it - but that's Monday's blog.