2012 Outlook: The end of everything?

Welcome to 2012, the year the world ends. Yes, in case you haven't been following the eschatologists out there (and most of them are definitely "out there"), 2012 will be "it" for humanity. The "last hurrah". Fini. Au revoir.

For example, if you are an adherent of the theory that the Mayan calendar accurately forecasts the Big One, then you will be waiting for Dec. 21, 2012 the date predicted for humanity's lights to go out.

While I very much doubt that doom and destruction will occur on that day, who knows? Clearly Harold Egbert Camping, the 90-year-old radio evangelist who repeatedly forecast the Rapture over the course of 2011 (with a naught for two score for the year) has shown that he's not really au fait with the predictions biz (he has since retired). Even so, should the rest of the doom predictors be correct, we should probably put off our next round of Christmas shopping until Dec. 22 just in case.

So, end times not withstanding, and before we once again dust off our crystal ball, we must start by checking how right (or wrong) our predictions about 2011 were.

Many of the predictions from last year (some of which I collected from others) concerned large scale economic forecasts which are, it turns out, hard to confirm or deny because how they are measured involves a lot of interpretation.

The first of these predictions from Frank Gens and the IDC Predictions Team. They predicted that worldwide IT spending growth would be "a solid 5.7%" and that "emerging markets, led by China, will continue to drive global IT spending growth, with 2.6 times the growth rate of developed markets, contributing over 50% of all new growth."

Alas, IDC hasn't, at least so far, published a scorecard for their 2011 predictions so I had to check with other sources. Gartner revised its global IT spending growth forecast for 2011 and notes "In U.S. dollar terms, the forecast has been revised up from 7.1% to 7.6% for 2011. However, stripping out the effect of exchange rates, the underlying forecast has been revised down slightly, from 3.6% to 2.9%."

From this and last year's data I conclude that, while interesting, these kinds of predictions are so nuanced and debatable only an economist could love them. I think it's fair to score those predictions as 0's.

Gens et al also predicted that the "mobility explosion will continue" and that's certainly been the case, with the numbers of every type of mobile device skyrocketing over 2011 according to mobiThinking. On the other hand, the next prediction, whether broadband networks would struggle over 2011 to keep up as 4G wireless networks crawled to market, is hard to quantify. I'll give the former a score of +1 and the latter a 0.

Gen's last claim of increasing demand for "cloud-friendly information infrastructure and real-time analytics for 'big data'" was so right, however, it should get a +10.

Last year Blue Coat Systems suggested that high definition live and on-demand video would become more prevalent on the Web (score +1), creating "video floods" that could take over enterprise WAN links (score 0); 3D video on the Web will still be a novelty and have almost no impact on corporate networks (score +1), while Web traffic was to represent more than 75% of corporate network traffic. Regarding the latter, there's no data available at present so score that a 0.

Blue Coat also suggested that "social networking will become the second largest class of Web traffic on corporate networks, behind live and on-demand Web video," but I've seen no evidence to support this yet (score -1).

Professor William Winsborough's claim that there would be an increasing demand for privacy solutions was definitely right, particularly the focus on medical data (score +1).

Neil Daswani, the CTO of security company Dasient, suggested that there would be "a large botnet cyberwar," but the reality of botnets over 2011 was far more complex (score -1). Daswani's predictions that "Malware will get stuffed into the local browser storage provided by HTML 5" is true insofar as there are HTML5 exploits, but over 2011 there were no significant attacks noted (score 0), while "There will be more advanced [instant messaging] threats directed at the use of webcams and audio" didn't come to pass (score -1).

The final predictions included one from Professor Darren Hayes that a cyber war against the government [and financial institutions that refused to handle donations to Wikileaks] would be declared, and my own prediction of increased "hacktivism" against "any company that runs afoul of hacker sentiment." Both were definitely a feature of 2011 but they're similar so we'll only take +1.

That makes the score for last year's predictions 6 right, 2 wrong, and 6 neutral, which is either 43% right or, if you take the neutrals as untestable, then it's 75% right. Either way, high-five me.

So, that was 2011. What of 2012? (Read what other predictions were made.)

Annoying stuff: Botnets, malware, hackers, distributed DoS attacks, spam, phishing ... just more of the same junk we've dealt with for years but an order or two magnitude worse. Several large financial organizations will suffer serious hacker break-ins and the details of millions of consumer accounts will be exposed. Business will simply carry on as usual.

Analytics: All organizations will dig deeper into their data to understand the hows and whys of consumer behavior. Along with this will go ...

Big data: The theory and practice of mining enormous data sets will continue to be explored and used for commercial purposes as companies try to identify consumer trends and find subtle correlations between consumers and their behaviors.

Cloud: In 2012 even bigger than it was in 2011, and, from an enterprise viewpoint, even more problematic when it comes to security.

The analytics backlash: The results of the fields of analytics and big data will start to really creep people out over 2012 and, while consumers will complain about privacy issues, nothing will be done because of the big money involved in being able to sell more, predict fraud, evaluate credit worthiness, and so on.

The consumerization of IT: This trend is unstoppable and will evolve quickly over 2012 to become a fact of life for IT in every organization. The security headaches will become much worse and IT will have to jump on this if they want to minimize risk and costs.

Social networking: We're reaching a plateau of market penetration because there are only so many consumers and each one can only manage so many accounts. Even so, social networks will become more vital sources of consumer behavioral data. Facebook's IPO will be huge but the share price will eventually slump as the market realizes that there's not much of a business model.

Hacktivism: Activism by hacker groups such as Anonymous was significant in 2011, and in 2012 hacktivism will have a huge impact on the online presence of both government and big business. A significant amount of the action will be by hackers working for foreign governments.

Net neutrality: Despite the FCC's rules that mandate "hands off" wired services, the ISPs will keep trying to run their networks as they want and will come up with cunning ways to argue that they are, in fact, playing the game.

Finally, my big prediction for 2012 stands a maybe 80% chance of coming to pass and is also somewhat eschatological, but rather than predicting the end of the world I'm predicting the end of the Internet ... at least, the Internet as we know it.

Over 2011 we've watched the to-ing and fro-ing of the bills Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). The bills were introduced, argued against, appeared to be dropped, and got picked up again. SOPA will be back before the House Judiciary Committee when Congress returns from its winter recess, and if SOPA/PIPA becomes law it will be the beginning of the legally sanctioned censorship of the 'Net. While it won't be the end of everything, it will be the end of everything that's good about the 'Net.

For IT and the Internet, 2012 is going to be a mixed bag much as 2011 was but the big difference will be that stakes will be that much higher.

Gibbs polishes his crystal balls in Ventura, Calif. Your prognostications to backspin@gibbs.com.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

This story, "2012 Outlook: The end of everything?" was originally published by Network World.

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