2014 – The year when I actually started to notice real changes

 Gavin Payne is a principal architect for Coeo , a SQL Server professional services company, and a Microsoft Certified Architect and Microsoft Certified Master. His role is to guide and lead organisations through data platform transformation and cloud adoption programmes.

In the last few weeks I’ve seen the technology media start producing their predictions of what they expect to happen – or get invented – over the next 12 months. This made me think how many previous predictions had actually affected the way I work as an IT professional or IT consumer. There’s always change happening when you work in IT, but what surprised me was just how much there’s been in 2014.  This article looks at three noticeable changes that have happened this year and affect how I work or interact with technology.

1. I learnt what “cloud first mobile first” actually means for IT

This was a term I’d heard used in the media a lot – and I’m sure like many I thought I knew what it meant, until late-summer that is. Previously my interpretation was simply that future IT solutions needed to support mobile devices as much as they did PCs and browsers. Not being a software developer, I didn’t really think much more about it.

Then, Satya Nadella gave a keynote presentation where he explained what Microsoft’s definition meant "the user experience was mobile across all of a user’s devices"  – smartphone, tablet, browser and PC. 

For me, I interpreted “the user experience” as meaning the interface, the functionality, the connectivity and the data. That’s quite a big ask when you think about the scale of the differences between a smartphone and a PC.  However, it supports the trend that a user’s primary IT device is increasingly something other than a PC for more and more people.

When I started using Office on my iPad that Microsoft released this autumn, I felt I was using the same familiar Office software I was used to on a PC – albeit on a very different device. Unlike previous attempts by many vendors to port their software it didn’t feel like using a sub-standard variant of the original – it had the same look, feel and functionality I was used to and equally importantly it provided access to my data in my Office 365 OneDrive account.

Whether it was with business applications, online shopping or reading the digital version of a newspaper – in 2014 I felt I was now getting a consistent experience across all my devices.

2. Public cloud infrastructure services began outperforming on-premises capabilities

For as long as I’ve been designing public cloud infrastructure solutions, I’ve had to design around the constraint that you can’t scale-up in the cloud, you have to scale-out. The relatively small size of even the biggest virtual servers available from cloud service providers was never expected to improve despite providers continuously making tweaks to their services; I never thought the cloud was to be the place to host an organisation’s largest workloads.

That all changed in late 2014. Microsoft announced a range of Azure virtual servers that combine very high levels of server resources with the cloud’s pay-per-use billing and near-instant provisioning. For the first time, Microsoft Azure was offering infrastructure capabilities that most organisations will struggle to provide in their own data centre, never mind that you’d be able to buy from another cloud service provider. Using a very large server for 6 hours of testing and then retiring it has now become a feasible option for project teams, not just something reserved for the biggest and more permanent production workloads.

If virtual machines with high levels of resource weren’t enough, at the same time Microsoft also announced new premium Azure storage services that will outperform most on-premises storage regardless of how much is needed.

For me, those two service announcements showed “the cloud has arrived”. While it’s not limitless, its capabilities can now meet the requirements of almost all the organisations I work with – without having to re-design systems to scale-out or worry they won’t have the resources they need.

3. Online shopping meets real-world problems

My final change is something to think about and stop us feeling too happy about innovation running away with itself as it’s a recent problem we probably weren’t expecting. The success of Black Friday has taken both the public by surprise as like most I’m still not too sure what it’s actually about – and the delivery companies used by the retailers to get the goods we buy online to us are equally as surprised. Today I received an order update from an online retailer saying my order was valued and important to them but due to a shortage of delivery vans it’s likely to be 10 days late getting to me. Due to unprecedented demand and owing to circumstances beyond our control aren’t phrases I expected to hear from a global online retailer in 2014; one that stocks thousands of items and opens their doors to me 24/7. 

Rightly or wrongly, my expectation of fast delivery came from this new generation of retailers using technology to solve the problems traditional retailers have to live with. It’s perhaps ironic then that they’re now suffering from real-world problems that no amount of technology currently knows how to solve.

A news article today suggested part of the problem comes from delivery companies having a small number of large trucks optimised for getting goods from the warehouse to the retail park, rather than a large number of smaller vans to get goods from the distribution centre to the doorstep. If I was being cynical, I could think Amazon have already tried one approach to solving that problem by outsourcing it to me - by letting me pay to collect my books from a locker in a big shopping centre instead of having them delivered to me.

Whatever the actual cause, its impact has been very visible over the last week especially to me waiting for something to be delivered. Until something changes it won’t be a one-off, instead it’s a good example of showing technology still has limits. Limits in this case imposed by the world it’s trying to outperform.

Ending the year aware

I’ve written about three very different types of change I’ve noticed this year. Some will have more relevance to some people than others while some will have no relevance to perhaps lots of people. Either way, I’m going to end my 2014 by being consciously aware for once of some of what’s changed around me this year. I hope I’ve inspired you to think about what noticeable changes you can take into 2015 and build on.

What changes during 2014 stand out for you? Let us know in the comments section or via @TechNetUK.