A major wave of technological advancement will cause the most fundamental changes to PC architectures for 20 years, according to Gartner.
Because of this, decisions made about the client platform today will influence operations well into the next decade and organisations need to plan accordingly.
Gartner says that the technological progress is being driven by the shift towards a more user-centric environment as users increasingly demand more consumer-like usage models that leverage technologies they already use on a day-to-day basis.
“Because of the scale of the changes and the speed at which they are happening, enterprises need to understand when major technology shifts will occur and when certain decisions must be made regarding technology implementations,” says Stephen Kleynhans, research vice-president at Gartner.
“We have developed a roadmap that identifies three key stages that will characterise the industry between 2007 and 2012 as guidance for corporate IT planners.”
1 – Platform infrastructure change – 2007/2008
After a lengthy period of stability, significant changes in hardware, operating system and connectivity options will mean that companies need to focus on technical details to a degree that has not been necessary since the late 1990s.
“Vista is the largest and, potentially, the most disruptive change in the operating system space since Windows 2000,” says Kleynhans.
“Organisations will discover that Vista cannot be adopted without a careful examination of its impact on their overall end-user management processes.”
Intel’s release of its new Core architecture processors continues the change away from traditional thinking about how to measure processors based on price/performance, to a new model that values features such as power efficiency, multicore operations and enhanced security.
However, Gartner warned that while new systems will bring significant improvements in performance and new management capabilities, the increased diversity and advanced features will make the development of specifications and configurations of machines problematic.
It advises organisations to educate those involved in the procurement process about how systems can be appropriately compared.
Kleynhans also highlights that notebook computers continue to see improvements in both performance and battery life, and as a result, it predicts corporate spending on notebooks in mature markets will approach the level of spending for desktops in 2008.
This trend will be helped by Intel’s Santa Rose platform in early 2007.
“The cost of providing notebooks will be higher than desktops, but this needs to be balanced against increased utility and user productivity,” says Kleyhans.
2 – Virtualisation takes hold – 2009/2010
The trend towards virtualising all aspects of the client environment will begin to take hold as a means to fundamentally change management and security paradigms.
Mainstream tools will begin to emerge that embrace and enable virtual, rather than physical, techniques for software deployment, environment management and device interactions.
As the decade closes, Gartner predicts an increasing number of users will be using personally owned equipment as their day-to-day systems.
This will force IT organisations to alter management processes and adopt virtualisation techniques to ensure that security, compliance and total cost of ownership (TCO) are not compromised.
The trend will be facilitated by continuing efforts to extend battery life and improve mobile form factors, which will result in systems that can provide all-day, disconnected mobile computing by 2009. Supporting mobile workers will become the norm rather than the special case.
Windows XP Support will begin to wane in 2009 and Gartner recommends that most customers look to phase out XP in this period. It also expects to see the first signs of Microsoft’s post-Vista operating system, which is likely to be more modular in construction.
3 – The user-centric era – 2011- 2012
One of the biggest challenges facing the IT organisation in the next decade is the blurring of the lines between corporate and consumer platforms.
Gartner says users will demand a single computing environment that enables them to embrace multiple roles, rather than disparate computing solutions.
Increasingly, these roles will be represented by “software bubbles” – complete user environments packaged up for delivery through various virtualisation techniques.
In this environment, IT organisations will struggle to stay ahead of user requirements and to dictate technology decisions. The IT organisation’s role will shift to facilitation and enablement.
Kleynhans says one of the most fundamental changes early in this era is User Personality Portability; the ability to carry digital persona between operating environments and devices.
“Users will move seamlessly among the devices carrying their settings, as well as transferring the state of their session as they move.”
He adds that new interaction models will start to appear at this time, where users increasingly communicate verbally, visually and through gestures with their computing devices.
Gartner expects that the post-Vista operating system will begin to feature on organisational planning horizons during this time.
How this will facilitate a more user-centric workplace remains to be seen, but it is expected to include significant design changes including more modular, embedded virtualisation support.
Gartner stresses that, as computing becomes more user-centric, organisations must realise that the end-user platform is more than an operational necessity and cost centre to be stabilised and pared down.
“It should be viewed as a strategic opportunity to attract new employees, streamline operations, open up new business opportunities, and enable new internal and external interaction models,” says Kleynhans.
To plan and prepare for the user-centric era, Gartner advises IT organisations to begin by understanding and accepting that empowered users increasingly want to adopt consumer technologies as part of their operating environments.
Kleynhans recommends that organisations also begin to investigate alternatives to traditional workplace environments, including PCs.
“As new working paradigms and new workers enter the market the ‘one size fits all’ approach to PC deployment will become increasingly untenable,” he says.