News Column

It's Hot In the Cloud Space

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The expansion of cloud-based computing, streamlining productivity and cutting costs are among the technology themes for business leaders in the suburbs as we head into the new year.

Companies of all sizes point to the cloud as a dominating trend. Cloud computing is where software applications, processing power, data and potentially even artificial intelligence are accessed over the Internet.

The online cloud is made up of multiple storage and data networks that seamlessly converge and talk to each other.

"I would say 2013 will be the year of the cloud," CompTIA President and CEO Todd Thibodeaux said.

More specifically, he looks at how the small- to medium-sized enterprise will use the technology that many of the bigger firms have already tackled. "The impact of cloud computing on small- and medium-sized businesses will be big," said Thibodeaux, who oversees the leading nonprofit association for the IT industry based in Downers Grove.

Tom Crowley, CEO of Libertyville-based technology manufacturer MBX, agreed that in 2013, migration by consumers and enterprises to store data in the cloud will continue its rapid growth, and the companies that provide cloud storage will look for better ways to store more data with less hardware.

"Memory is expanding rapidly and measured in terabytes and petabytes. Today a single cloud storage server configured with 192 terabytes of raw storage can store more data than 302,700 CD-ROMs," he said.

Some smaller businesses say they see the need for the cloud. Benjamin Olson, founder of 3 Monkeys & Aardvark Studios in Schaumburg, thinks cloud-based apps will continue to explode. "Streamlined productivity is why I use them (cloud-based apps)," he said. "When I am with a client, prospect, or in a creative session with colleagues, I use apps on my iPad for notes, concepting and project management. By the time I make it back to my studio, I have the updates on my iMac without having to spend extra time re- entering," he said.

And saving time is saving money when it comes to technology trends.

Wynright Corp. in Elk Grove Village is launching Visual Sort in early 2013, which will enable publishers and manufacturers to better trace returns as they come into distribution centers and then more efficiently track and restock the returned products, said Joe O'Connor, director of marketing.

Visual Sort is a customized software solution that helps companies more quickly restock and redistribute products.

The software is operated in the distribution center through a touch screen, scanner and network connection. Once the product is scanned into the system, Visual Sort illuminates on the screen what bin the returned inventory should be put into, which accelerates the current labor-intensive return inventory restocking processes.

The enhanced traceability provided can also be automatically fed back to any warehouse management system, O'Connor said.

John Samborski, CEO of Ace Computers in Arlington Heights, echoed the sentiment that business will be looking at getting leaner in the coming year. Samborski, whose company develops computer and server systems, said companies are looking at containing costs by getting more out of fewer pieces of equipment.

"Everybody is trying to be more energy-efficient and work with fewer devices." Samborski said. "We're definitely seeing more interest in cutting costs."

Samborski said computer manufacturers are building systems that can handle more work with less power and equipment, leading companies to upgrade their systems, but not needing as much as before. "Five years ago, a company may have had 10 servers. Today they're able to operate with one," he said.

But by next year, the emerging trend will be the evolution of smartphone technology to personal mobile computing, said Iqbal Arshad, senior vice president global product development mobile devices of Motorola Mobility, Libertyville and Chicago.

"Tablets and mobile devices will start to replace traditional hardware, and consumers will have unprecedented flexibility to manage everything from their finances to their social circles anytime, anywhere," Arshad said.

Companies will see this industry step-change by developing faster, thinner and smarter devices which will soon make seamless connectivity even more of a reality.

And even in the medical industry, it's likely the technology will evolve for devices and supplies, Medline CEO Charlie Mills said.

"For the medical device and supplies industry, the hottest new technologies in 2013 won't come with an on/off switch or a power cord," Mills said. "Technology improvements are coming in the form of significant innovations in the way older products work. Take for example Medline's new BioMask, the first FDA-approved face mask that actually kills the flu virus."

Mills said that for decades, face masks just filtered the air. Now, with new technology from Ionixx, a simple face mask can protect the wearer from getting and spreading deadly viruses.

At NEC Display Solutions in Itasca, the hottest trend right now is being driven by advancements in interactive technology, said Keith Yanke, director of product marketing.

"Our customers, regardless of their industry, want to incorporate touch-screen displays into their signage strategy to better connect visitors to their facility and services. Operators of digital signage in public areas, like restaurants and retail stores, want to use digital technology to improve the customer experience, convey brand messaging and better communicate with the visitor," he said. We foresee many will start using "order-ready boards" that alert customers when their meals are completed, he said.

Meanwhile, consumer technology will always affect the corporate customer, LaMantia said. For example, "Laptops before iPad, iPhone becoming work devices. Security and support across enterprise will be the challenge."

2013 will be "the year of the apps" as mobile technology shifts from a consumer focus to a work-flow environment, said Alex Bratton, president and CEO of Lisle-based Lextech. "There will be apps that allow the business owner to do the job rather than personal productivity," Bratton said. "You will have the apps needed to do your job in your pocket."

New apps will let the owner of a small or medium business to basically conduct all aspects of his work, from bookkeeping to sales. Also, increased use of file-sharing sites coupled with the evolution of electronic forms and signatures will lead to businesses being able to move contracts and important documents through the Internet.

* Daily Herald Business Ledger writers Richard R. Klicki and Anna Marie Kukec contributed to this report.

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