5 hot IT topics: 5 must-read books

Keeping up with virtualization, green IT, SOA and other important IT subjects can be a challenge. These books will help.

Staying on top of all the new innovations, strategies and directions in today's IT world can be mindboggling. That's where a great IT library can help, filled with the latest and greatest guidebooks on all the hot IT topics you need to put your arms around in your company's constantly morphing technology environment.

But where do you start looking for information on key new IT frontiers, including virtualization, community building, data strategies, green data centers and cloud computing? Right here: We've collected five best-of-breed books to help you tackle some of the most important technology topics that you need to know about right now.

Practical Virtualization Solutions: Virtualization from the Trenches by Kenneth Hess and Amy Newman

(Prentice Hall, $40, Oct. 2009)

I love this book because it's like taking Virtualization 101 in a single, information-filled, easy-to-understand and inspiring one-day class. This book won't hold your hand every step of the way from RFP to testing to deployment to production, but that's not its point. What it does is tell you is all the stuff you need to know to begin to figure out how virtualization can help your company, how it can fit your IT infrastructure and how you can follow a reasonable path to get there.

It describes the basics, from what you can and can't gain through virtualizing to reviewing all the different virtualization hypervisor vendor options you can choose from, including VMware, Microsoft, Citrix and Sun Microsystems, in helpful detail. It's a great guidebook and a great jumping-off point.

Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions

edited by Toby Segaran and Jeff Hammerbacher

(O'Reilly Books, $45, July 2009)

In a world filled with tech "how-to" guides, this illuminating book is nothing of the sort. Instead, the editors have gathered together 20 riveting case studies written by 39 writers and data experts to illustrate all of the amazing things that "beautiful data" can do in the world of IT projects. You will revel in amazing descriptions of how business and science problems were ultimately solved using data in innovative and thought-provoking ways.

And with those stories come the real lessons, as the authors explain how data creativity can go much further than just IT hardware and software applications. You will peer into how crime data was overlaid with map data in Oakland, Calif., to help make the community aware of what was happening within it and how that information was received and viewed by community residents.

You'll also learn how researchers came up with the processes that allowed the NASA Phoenix Mars Lander project to capture photographic images on the red planet, process them and transmit them back to Earth -- with no hands-on way to fix Phoenix if something went wrong. These stories will inspire you to think about using data in new and innovative ways inside your organization.

Reading this book isn't like reading an IT textbook. It's like reading an adventure story that wows you with each chapter. I bet you'll be so amazed by some of the stories here that you'll share them with colleagues. It's that interesting.

Grow A Greener Data Center

by Douglas Alger

(Cisco Press, $45, Aug. 2009)

When you are ready to make your company's data center more environmentally friendly, this is the book for you. By the time you get to this book, you've already made up your mind to cut your company's power and cooling costs, to improve your environmental stewardship and to help make a difference on the planet. That's where this richly detailed volume will help.

It's filled with statistics and formulas that you can use to gain commitments for corporate green policies from your executive team, as well as step-by-step checklists for how to make it all happen in your data centers and all the way down to your users' hardware and software. If you use hosted data centers, you'll find advice for having detailed discussions with your service providers and choosing services based on their level of commitment to energy savings and other earth-friendly policies.

Seemingly nothing is left out of the equations here, including some items you may not have considered, from using green building materials in new facility construction to choosing fire suppression systems that are better for the environment. This book takes a no-holds-barred approach to the topic and is rich with information and great strategies. That's why it should be at the top of your pile of green data center books as you explore this important issue.

Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise: A Step-by-Step Guide by David S. Linthicum

(Addison-Wesley Professional, $45, Sept. 2009)

Nothing in IT happens in a vacuum. Everything, from servers to network switches to applications to data to everything in between, is all connected in one way or another. That's how this book approaches the intersection of cloud computing and service-oriented architecture (SOA) in IT systems.

The author guides the reader in his hypothesis that SOA and cloud computing are important to each other because the cloud allows organizations to extend their internal SOA infrastructure outside their firewalls, giving them a deeper reach to satisfy their IT requirements.

This book is a great primer on the very wide and complex subject, diving into the many facets of cloud computing offerings, from storage-as-a-service to databases-as-a-service to applications-as-a-service, as well as addressing related issues such as governance, business process management (BPM) and handling systems and data in the cloud environment.

This isn't a "here's how" guide, but you do get a "what to think about" road map which clearly and simply defines the components that you need to consider. When jumping into the cloud and SOA, this easy-to-read book is a helpful and insightful place to start.

The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation

by Jono Bacon

(O'Reilly Books, $40, Aug. 2009)

At first glance, you might think that a book on online communities might not have a place in a round-up of books on hot IT topics. But you'd be very wrong, and here's why: So much of what companies and their workers do all day is done online, whether communicating with customers, planning strategies or sharing information. While one-to-one communications like e-mail are still very much in play, online communities are playing an ever-larger role in just about every aspect of corporate life.

And that means that the potential for the loss of actual live human contact is very real. You know how e-mail often doesn't seem to have any context and sometimes you're not sure if the person who just wrote to you is being serious or joking? The same problem occurs in communities online, writes Bacon, and it takes real effort to make things work so that everyone can truly connect out there in the electronic ether.

That's where this unusual book comes in, to help you realize how important it is to create, foster and grow such communities and give you concrete ways to make it happen. Bacon learned his skills well as a community manager for the open-source Ubuntu Linux project, where bringing disparate people together was a key part of his job. In many online communities, infighting often occurs as people forget they are dealing with other humans -- a sad result of the lack of face-to-face contact online.

Come to think of it, the diverse lessons in this book -- from how to handle conflicts, to "aspiring to inspire," to learning to be a community leader by listening to others and working with them instead of being a dictator -- are also great lessons in our offline, real world. This is a fun read with fascinating observations on the human condition.

More great reads:

* Social media marketing: 5 must-read books

* Web design and promotion: 5 must-read guidebooks

Formerly a Computerworld staff reporter, Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies. Follow him on Twitter @TechManTalking.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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