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Most of the year was spent with channel voices raising the volume over potential growth areas. As a result plenty of the IT discussed in 2017 is still in its early stages and is set for more growth next year and beyond. There were however some welcome signs for those still selling PCs that there is life in that area of the market. Elsewhere it was impossible not to mention digital transformation and cloud as the world continued to shift towards managed services and hosted applicatons. Here in no particular order are some of the technologies that garnered a fair bit of coverage over the course of the last year:
1. Virtual reality
The year started with Intel's CEO using CES as a platform to talk about the prospects of VR, sttressing that the technology was not just for gamers.
"Technology today we believe is extending far beyond the classic consumer electronics and extending to every experience you have today," said Intel's CEO Brian Krzanich.
"I know a lot of people are questioning 'is virtual reality going to take off?' 'Is VR going anywhere?'" he added "We have a lot more technologies coming over the next few years and we believe Intel is leading this unprecedented change and make this vision a reality."
The technology would get another mention by Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella at the firm's Worldwide Partner Conference as he trumpeted the next wave of innovation. one of the buzzwords the firm likes to use is 'immersive computing' and vR headsets are very much part of that proposition.
Verdict: One to watch
2. Digital transformation
Last year was just a couple of weeks old when the talk of the channel pitching themselves as digital transformation experts started.
“The next level of value and services is at a time when this concept of digital transformation is foremost and in the customer minds and the partners need to be [becoming] digital transformation partners,” said Phil Croxford, director, EUC alliances & channels, EMEA at VMware.
March saw Computacenter updating investors as it issued full year results and talked about what 2017 might hold. "New technologies and the drive to digitalisation within our core customer base is driving our customers to invest capital in new projects which is unlikely to abate," stated Mike Norris, chief executive of Computacenter.
Dell EMC World in May was also dominated by those two words as the firm encouraged partners to focus on one of the main areas of growth.
“The digital transformation mega trend will only intensify, reinforcing the need to start the IT transformation journey now,” said David Goulden, president, Dell EMC.
By the end of the year the phrase was being used less frequently. Not because it was no longer an apt description of what customers were looking to do in their businesses but more because it had become so universally accepted. Talk of digital is not going away anytime soon.
Verdict: Here right now
3. Enterprise PC market
All year there was evidence that the commercial PC market was far from dead with sales showing that whether it was Windows 10 causing refreshes or just customers opting for an upgrade of hardware there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the hardware.
“The steady refinement of slim and convertible designs, as well as rising commercial spending are helping stabilise overall traditional PC shipments," said Loren Loverde, vice president with IDC's Worldwide Personal Computing Device Tracker and Tracker Forecasting, stated in May.
There were even vendors queing up to take a shot at the corporate PC market with Toshiba making it one the aims of the year. “We developed the Portégé X20W-D as part of our drive to create the best possible laptop experience for professionals, from employees in small to mid-size organisations, to large corporate environments - regardless of their location,” said Maki Yamashita, senior vice president, PC & Solutions EMEA, Toshiba Europe.
Each quarter saw numbers from Gartner, IDC and Context that showed the enterprise PC market was continuing to prove the reports of its demise very premature.
The fourth quarter began with Steve Brazier, president and CEO of Canalys, using his keynote at the analyst firm's European Channel Forum to take on the myth of the dying PC.
"Hardware is not dead," he added "Don't listen to your investors who tell you to get out of hardware and only go to services. There's no evidence to support that at all," he said.
He was supported by Dell, HP and Lenovo, who are all locked in a battle to gain market share and happy to bang the drum over a future for PCs.
Marco Andresen, chief operating officer and vice president of channels at Lenovo, said that most corporate customers still used PCs and that situation would not change anytime soon.
Verdict: Still money in PCs
There were quite a few people happy to wave the flag for IaaS this year with Gartner signalling back in February that the technology was due to grow strongly this year.
Forecasts of what lay ahead from Gartner in February had the IaaS market expected to grow by 36.8%, which was hi8gher than the rate of SaaS.
"While some organizations are still figuring out where cloud actually fits in their overall IT strategy, an effort to cost optimize and bring forth the path to transformation holds strong promise and results for IT outsourcing (ITO) buyers. Gartner predicts that through 2020, cloud adoption strategies will influence more than 50% of IT outsourcing deals," said Sid Nag, research director at Gartner.
Towards the end of the year that theme was picked up by ingram Micro. The distributor urged resellers to take a closer look at IaaS to make sure they did not miss out on potential revenue.
Apay Objang-Oyway, director cloud and software UK&I at Ingram Micro, said that although many had focused on SaaS there were plenty of opportunities around IaaS.
“While SaaS provides a great deal of simplicity to business users due to its ‘all-or-nothing’ approach, in contrast, IaaS is the bridge between business and IT, where both the IT department and the business as a whole can appreciate the significant benefits of cloud, especially its scalability. For business users, they receive the reduced pricing and experience the capabilities of the cloud, while the IT department enjoys data centres with the possibility of an adaptable and accessible infrastructure on demand," he said.
Verdict: Time to look beyond SaaS
5. Smart tech
Although this is a market in its infancy, a Gartner description of the state of play, the channel was already taking steps to ensure it could be in a position to serve the growth when it arrives.
"Messaging needs to be focused on the real value proposition that the complete connected home ecosystem provides, encompassing devices, service and experience," said Jessica Ekholm, research director at Gartner.
Some of the distributors made moves to set up smart tech divisions, with the likes of Exertis and Tech Data leading the way, to make sure they were building vendor relationships to cover the emerging opportunities.
“There’s still some way to go yet”, said Adam Simon, Global Managing Director at Context. “Although UK consumers are considered the most internet-savvy in Europe, evidenced by strong online banking and media catch-up penetration, just 9% currently control their home remotely, according to the study.”
Although the focus remains on the consumer end of the market at the moment there are expectations that as those products turn up in a corporate environment there will be infrastructure and security opportunities for the channel.
Verdict: Watch out for the corporate opportunity
Another area that has been heavily associated with the consumer end of the market is the Internet of Things phenonomenon. The industrialised opoortunities that would be of more interest to the channel are emerging but it does remain early days.
That has not stopped distributors like Arrow ECS getting behind IoT to be ready for when it takes off in a big way. We have seen a lot of interesting conversations about it this year and next year we expect those to turn into opportunities," said David Fearne, technical director at Arrow ECS.
"We are seeing proof of concept put into place in some industries that is using terabytes of data and there is a huge opportunity for Arrow ECS to put into place data solutions to deal with these opportunities," he added.
Vendors are also doing their bit to try to encourage developers to get involved with IoT to extend the market reach. "We are helping OEMs to build incremental value to disrupt the market and generate incremental revenue," said Alex Hollingsworth, senior director EMEA sales at Lantronix.
He added that more of the industry was coming under pressure to adopt the technology: "If people don't accelerate IoT efforts they can't afford to sit on the fence anymore."
November saw the Global Technology Distribution Council (GTDC) issue its latest report into distribution and vendor relationships. Among other observations the industry group commented that despite all of the hype about AI the next big thing to hit the channel was going to be IoT and distribution needed to be in a position to help integrate solutions for the SME market.
Verdict: Still early but growth is coming
It was the year of WannaCry and Petya and a moment when it went from being a slight problem to the number one concern for an awful lot of security players.
Datto focused its partner event on the topic with Andrew Stuart, managing director EMEA at the vendor, stating that it viewed the ransomware problem as the biggest data protection challenge that customers were dealing with and as a result was stepping up its activity in the area.
May saw WannaCry hit a wave of victims, including thr NHS, and then just a month later Petya was added to the conversation with the ransomware managing to hit systems at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the advertising giant WPP.
The response in the channel was swift with vendors sharing details of what was happening along with potential opportunities with partners. Research from Imperva revealed that 60,000 hosts were still vulnerable to the EternalBlue exploit that was used in the WannaCry attack. Check Point's threat team was also following the progress of the ransomware and noted that although there was a kill switch discovered WannaCry still remained active out in the field.
But in the second half of the year memories seemed to have already faded and there were concerns being expressed that complacency was creeping in and SMEs in particular were not taking ransomware as seriously as they should.
“The lack of concern about ransomware is leaving a gaping hole in the security of global businesses, as witnessed by the recent outbreaks of WannaCry and not-Petya. This combined with the UK’s false sense of security when it comes to businesses’ ability to manage external threats is worrying," said Adam Nash, EMEA regional manager at Webroot.
By the end of the year though it the impact of the threat on security spending was starting to become clear with Canalys charting a 9% increase in global spending.
“High-profile ransomware attacks and increasingly sophisticated phishing techniques have proved the need for businesses to reinforce their IT security to safeguard data assets and ensure continuity of operation,” said Claudio Stahnke, research analyst at Canalys.
Verdict: Will remain one of the hottest topics in security
Some of the largest names in networking were banging the drum for SD-WAN arging that the channel should get involved with an area set for major growth.
IDC commented that it had noticed a growing number of service providers "jumping on the bandwagon" to take a slice of a market that it expected to grow at an average pace of 92% per year to hit $2.1bn by 2021.
"SD-WAN has emerged as one of the hottest topics in the WAN industry," said Jan Hein Bakkers, senior research manager at IDC. "It will become one of the key building blocks of network evolution, driving the flexibility, manageability, scalability, and cost effectiveness that organizations require in their balancing act between rapidly growing requirements and much flatter budgets."
Atchison Frazer, worldwide head of marketing at Talari, was at one of the vendors looking to work with the channel and said that it had started with networking resellers getting involved but that was spreading into other areas.
"We are open to talking to people. There is the networking opportunity, and there have been some forward thinking resellers in that area. But what is happening now is the unified comms specialists are also seeing SD-WAN as a complementary revenue stream," he said.
Verdict: At the 'starting to make some real money' stage
9. Windows 10
The Microsoft operating system continued to be a presence in the channel with more customers adopting the OS. The vendor had ambitious adoption targets and did manage to perform better than its last couple of releases.
One of the drivers for choosing Win 10 was the improved security features, with enterprise customers appreciating the efforts that had been made to make the platform more secure.
"Organisations recognize the need to move to Windows 10, and the total time to both evaluate and deploy Windows 10 has shortened from 23 months to 21 months between surveys that Gartner did during 2015 and 2016," said Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner.
"Large businesses are either already engaged in Windows 10 upgrades or have delayed upgrading until 2018. This likely reflects the transition of legacy applications to Windows 10 or replacing those legacy applications before Windows 10 migration takes place," he added.
The channel found itself not only selling upgraded hardware but with helping customers deal with migration issues, which could be a lucrative part of the market for the next few months.
Windows 10 adoption is unavoidable, so every organization needs to brace themselves with the tools and strategies that will make their migration a success,” said Jon Rolls, vice president of product management, Ivanti.
Those remaining users, including a few sizeable public sector customers, that were using Windows XP were also a target for the channel.
"Many companies subscribe to the theory that if it’s ‘not broke, don’t fix it,’ especially those that aren’t prioritising IT. As a result, many IT departments lack the resources and budget needed to upgrade to newer operating systems like Windows 10. It takes time to upgrade all systems in an organisation and train end users on the new features and functionality. But now more than ever, it’s critical for IT professionals to make a business case for more resources," said Peter Tsai, senior technology analyst at Spiceworks.
Verdict: It still really matters to Microsoft
10. Flash and hyper converged
A bit of a cheat here squeezing two technologies in but both come under the umbrella of storage. With the technology continuing to become more attractive in terms of pricing it was another period of growth for flash, with even more customers deciding it was the answer to their storage problems.
"As enterprises progress in their digital transformation paths, sales of all-flash array systems, standalone or converged, see no crisis in sight, doubling their sales compared to the same period a year ago and reaching a quarter of total sales," said Silvia Cosso, research manager, European Storage and Datacenter Research, IDC.
But the storage world was also dominated by hyper converged with NetApp, which had been slow to move to flash and was determined not to make the same mistake, heralding the technology.
"If you think of hyper converged it is [having a positive impact] on some of the partner community," said Adam Tarbox, UK director of partners and pathways at NetApp, "It is an opportunity for a broader conversation about the performance that the customer is looking for."
"We want the partners to get involved with some of the service opportunities and unleash new systems and performance," he said.
Verdict: Growth to be had in the storage hot areas