The good news for us techies is that there are so many things to choose from... So, in no particular order, here are some that I'm excited about.
Continuous Deployment / Delivery
Different people give it different names but the concept is the same: Since you're already running continuous integration servers against your codebase to make sure they build correctly and pass automated tests, why not go one step further and deploy to production instead of stopping at the integration environment?
Companies that follow this approach will often release to production dozens of times a day. A key goal is reducing the "wait time" for a bug fix or a new feature to be available to users from days, weeks, or even months to a couple of hours at most.
On the technical side, continuous deployment calls for extensive automation, comprehensive unit and integration test coverage, clear procedures for making (reversible!) database updates, improved production server monitoring to detect any flaws ASAP, and the ability to efficiently stage a deployment through multiple "waves" of servers (e.g. start with 1, then 10, then 100 servers) and of course roll it back in case of issues.
On the business side, continuous deployment means more flexibility in how features are rolled out. While bug fixes may hit all users very quickly, Product Managers can now batch features together as needed and release them to a few clients for beta testing, before "flicking the switch" of a full deployment. Of course, all this entails tight cooperation between Development, Operations, and Product Management.
While some will understandably be gun shy of pushing out code so quickly, I believe that companies that achieve continuous deployment will reap significant competitive advantage.
Another example of how our world is moving from the discrete to the continuous is in development "methodologies". Long ago, waterfall gave us release cycles measured in months and years. Today Agile approaches like Scrum typically aim for a "production-ready" codebase at the end of each sprint (typically two weeks). But two weeks is too slow if you're embracing continuous deployment.
Consequently I'm seeing more and more activity around Kanban or Kanban-like models for software development. Based on Toyota's Lean Manufacturing principle Kanban focuses on eliminating waste and improving efficiency based on (among other things) maintaining a smooth flow of features and fixes through the "development pipeline". This "pull" system is a lot more suited to rapidly responding to external changes than waterfall or even Scrum (where early sprint termination is usually fairly costly).
In reality, it can often make sense to combine elements of both Scrum and Kanban. In my own experience we've found Kanban well suited for operations teams, esp. when they're dealing with many emergent tasks.
Kanban's challenge when used with continuous deployment is being able to decompose stories into small enough items. A four week work item defeats the purpose of continuous flow! :-)
Alternatives to SQL really exploded in 2010 when NOSQL hit mainstream. Products like CouchDB, MongoDB, Redis, and Cassandra are powering very large sites. These databases are in some ways the descendants of the OODBs that seemed poised to break SQL's hold on our data 10-15 years ago and, more directly, related to the BigTable technology Google developed.
While the tech community has a well-known affinity for bright, new, shiny things and we're still learning how best to use NoSQL, there's no doubt we'll be seeing a lot of action in this space in 2011. We'll also see a backlash fueled in part by highly publicized failures like this one (though there will always be counter-examples!).
Despite Microsoft's re-entry in the mobile space with Windows 7 Phone and Palm's impending release of webOS based tablets (oh, and RIM too), I doubt Apple's iOS and Google's Android will lose much if any market share.
Last year Adobe implemented Flash on iOS but was blocked by Apple's strict licensing agreement, which Apple then quietly relaxed a few months later. Given that you need your apps on both Android & iOS to reach the majority of consumers I expect cross platform development environments to get more airtime in 2011. Companies include Rhomobile, Airplay, and appMobi (which just announced a $6M round of funding yesterday).
In the meantime, since Android and iOS have sophisticated (and mostly compliant) HTML5 browsers, some developers are building their mobile apps as web apps and releasing a "shell app" to both Apple and Google app stores. Netflix is a prime example of this approach.
It's not clear to me whether we'll see new classes of security products in 2011 but what is clear is that with attack surfaces multiplying, demand will be strong. Companies are expanding their apps into the mobile space, rolling out APIs, dealing with ever increasing browser complexity, maybe even experimenting with NFC, and they often do so at the expense of security. Just as importantly, many web apps now outsource key functions to third parties (e.g. customer support, payments, emails...). Criminals targeting these firms could potentially affect hundreds or thousands more.
Financial services may be where most of the money is but cyber criminals are nothing if not opportunistic. They'll keep looking for other industries to target, esp. ones that might not be so security minded. Speaking of branching out, I'm not sure if it will happen this year but with Apple's growing PC penetration it's only a matter of time before virus and trojan writers focus on OSX.
Concerns of "mini wikileaks" within large organizations will likely increase demand for employee monitoring tools, egress filtering, comprehensive audit trails. None of this will prevent a determined data thief, but it will satisfy auditors and shareholders.
There's more to talk about: Rails becoming the defacto startup dev platform, the problems of complex systems, and the progress towards AI, but these will have to wait for another time.