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Top 12 for '12 - the IT Cambrian Explosion


Cast your mind back to the late ‘90s, the IT manager’s world was well on track to becoming a delightfully boring place. I remember reading reports that rapid standardization on Windows and Intel along with, albeit to a lesser extent, Cisco, SAP, Oracle and EMC, meant that CIOs should expect to be able to run the infrastructure equivalent of a budget airline – where operational costs are held down through rigorous adoption of the one type of aircraft. And that’s pretty much how it played out for the first 5-10 years – and then came Web 2.0. 


cambrian.JPGEvolutionists describe the Cambrian explosion as a period of great speciation, a time when nature experimented with novel forms of life, most of which later died out leaving behind those best suited to succeed and fossils for those that weren’t. With the advent of mobility, web 2.0 and cloud technologies, I think IT is going through a similar period of change. The problem for IT leaders is to balance the desire to standardize their technology suite whilst taking advantage of the innovation and efficiencies offered by a dizzying array of new architectures and technologies.


Partly in order to address the challenges of cloud services at the “gigauser” (billions of users) scale, the industry has been driven to create new architectures that help circumvent the technology, time-to-market and physical limits inherent in legacy technology. 


The dilemma – there are fewer obvious heir-apparent than there were back in the early ‘90s. This means that CIOs need to be assessing the impact of a number of key trends impacting architectural diversity. There are five that jump out at me in terms of thee subtle and not-so-subtle impact I believe they will have on how we deliver IT in 2012 and beyond.


Let’s start by looking at the first;


#4 The return of the browser wars

With the introduction of the web, we rapidly moved from a world of embedded clients to general purpose browser clients loading server side apps. Developers had to make assumptions about what browser the end-user would have. If in 2005 you assumed Microsoft Internet Explorer and Flash you would have been safe, at the time represented roughly 95% of the web browser traffic. 


Fast forward to 2012 and how things have changed.  Smart phones, tablets and a small army of WebKit based browsers including Mozilla’s Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari among others now represent over 40% market share and are expected to grow. 


Adding to the complexity is the famously fragmented state of HTML5 and Flash support. Getting a call from your CEO, senator or minister asking why their favorite device can’t display their pet project’s web site properly is making the CIOs role especially challenging.


So the difference with this browser war is that I don’t think that anyone is going to win (at least not any time soon), if anything the consumerization of IT is likely to exacerbate the problem (one of the reasons I believe there will be a backlash against the trend before the year is out).


In the mean time, the primary action for IT leaders will be ensuring that they’re able to develop and test on at least 2-3 browsers, ideally without having to fall back to manual testing of each environment. In the absence of a clear winner, mirror testing and automated regression suites will become a higher priority as QA teams and developers seek to remove time to market bottlenecks without throwing people at the problem.


What’s your strategy for dealing with the battle of the browsers? Are you expecting to increase or decrease end-user choice in the coming year?


For more thoughts on IT management you can follow me on 


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Paul Muller has a wealth of experience working with CIOs and VPs of IT improve IT performance and business alignment.
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About the Author


Paul Muller leads the global IT management evangelist team within the Software business at HP. In this role, Muller heads the team responsible for fostering HP’s participation in the IT management community, contributing to and communicating best-practice in helping IT perform better.

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