"Cautious optimism" has been the prevailing sentiment in the tech industry for the past few years, but in 2014 can we finally expect more confidence?
Maybe, say industry watchers.
"I wouldn't say the mood is ebullient, but it's a stronger, more upbeat outlook than there has been the last few years," says John Longwell, vice president of research at Computer Economics. "Large companies seem to be investing in operations and hiring. That's the positive takeaway. But they still seem to be restrained on the capital spending side."
"I would categorize it as the absence of pessimism," says Johna Till Johnson, president and founder of Nemertes Research. But most folks "still seem somewhat overworked and understaffed."
A rise in operational spending and the need for more staff bode well for hiring, which continues to be a bright spot in the tech industry. "I would remove cautious,' but I wouldn't go as far as saying we're going to see one of the biggest boom years we've ever seen," says Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing specialist Modis. "I think it's going to be a strong year."
Timothy Walsh, senior IT architect at American Electric Power (AEP), says the electric utility is embarking on a number of projects in 2014, including retiring Windows XP and migrating to a new storage platform. AEP also is planning a wireless infrastructure upgrade, prompted by an increase in BYOD.
"As more users have started bringing in smartphones, tablets and their own laptops, the use of wireless has skyrocketed to the point we're now unable to provide adequate coverage in various meeting rooms throughout the plant," Walsh says. "The upgrade will position us to better support our users as they move into more of a mobile work environment."
Ryan Taylor, CEO of consulting firm Dime IT, says his company's clients are expanding their budgets as the economy improves. "Companies have been really stretching their hardware refresh cycles to the extreme," Taylor says. "It's a relief for IT departments everywhere as we'll all be able to replace/upgrade versus fix/Band-Aid."
On the network front, 2014 "will be a big year for network management," predicts Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. "Over the last five years, things have become more consumerized, more virtualized, more mobile, more wireless. The environment has become increasingly more complex."
IT managers are looking for tools that can help them monitor application performance through the lens of the end user, and old-school management platforms from the client-server era aren't going to cut it, he says: "Eighty percent of customers are now looking for alternative solutions for network management."
One technology that's not yet on the investment list for most companies is software-defined networking (SDN), despite all the hype in 2013. It's just too early, Kerravala says. "For most mainstream enterprises, 2014 should be the year you learn about SDNs and what it can do and how it can benefit your organization. It's not the year to deploy." (Related: SDN in 2014: More of everything)
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