Management Strategies

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T.C. Doyle, VARBusiness
T.C. Doyle, VARBusiness
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Panel of innovators offer a rational vision of grid computing, mobile video and other hype-happy technologies.

With his corporate communications specialist cringing off-stage, Rod Smith of IBM said what many in the IT business have come to suspect -- that grid computing is another one of the industry's over-hyped propositions.

Speaking at a gathering of technology innovators at the recent XChange Tech Innovators conference in San Diego, Smith, the vice president of emerging technology at the world's largest computing company, responded crisply and succinctly to a direct question on what he considered to be the industry's most over-hyped technology. It was just one of several topics that the panel of experts -- all top-level industry thinkers -- addressed at the event. In addition to other issues, the panelists cut through the hype surrounding grid computing and Microsoft's upcoming Longhorn OS, weighed in on upcoming software tools that will simplify systems and network integration in the years ahead, and touched on the opportunities VARs will have to field improved solution stacks.

What made Smith's comments so interesting, for example, is that his employer has planned for steep investments into grid and on-demand computing. While controversial, Smith won over the audience with a rational vision of what is real and what is not in terms of grid today. He was echoed by Larry Singer, a senior vice president and technology visionary at Sun, who acknowledged that some in the industry have moved forward with grid technology, either developing or deploying it, without fully understanding the innards or capabilities of the technology. "Scaled grid makes sense," he said, comically adding that "sometimes it doesn't."

Smith and Singer were just two of the several experts on technology brought together by VARBusiness editors Alexander Wolfe and Carolyn April to debate, discuss and dissect some of the latest innovations and ideas in IT. They were joined in San Diego by Michael Robertson, CEO, Linspire; Bill Johnson, vice president of research and development with HP's ProCurve division; Mark Iwanowski, senior vice president of global information technologies at Oracle; and Dwain Kinghorn, CTO of Altiris. On stage, the panel of experts covered Linux, handheld computing devices, fledgling industry standards, storage, security and other ideas. They took questions from solution providers attending the XChange conference and from April and Wolfe directly. Afterward, the executives huddled for a 90-minute, closed-door roundtable discussion that covered additional topics, including disruptive business models, complex software integration challenges and ways companies can get more out of their IT investments. (A full transcript of those executives' comments will be showcased in VARBusiness' upcoming issue on Dec. 13.)

More than most, the question about the most over-hyped technologies in the business today seemed to bring out the most candor from the technologists. Robertson, for example, drew howls of laughter on stage when he said there was a tie among over-hyped innovations between mobile video and Microsoft's promising, albeit delayed and downscaled, Longhorn operating systems software. "You can't even get e-mail reliably," he said, "so video on phone? Gimme a break!"

Kinghorn, meantime, agreed that Microsoft's Longhorn project deserved that label. "There's already some paralysis that [is] happening, yet Microsoft is taking out file system things, etc.," he said. "Microsoft had ability to paralyze the market in the near term."

Other technologies promoted above and beyond what they perhaps deserve today, at least where revenue contributions are considered, include the Internet standard IPv6. "The real challenge, the promise it brings around security and enhanced management, is there," Johnson said. "But we've learned how to work around them with version 4. No end-user benefits by going to next version," he says.

Oracle's Iwanowski took some issue with the notion that grid computing is over-hyped, pointing out that, "if you go into our data centers, we have an acre-and-a-half of a on-demand [computing technology in a] grid environ." He went on to say that grid was a classic, emerging technology that needed to be better understood and given more time to evolve.

When asked which technologies or ideas were under-hyped, the technologists had equally interesting answers. Smith said that systems that are more reliable and can manage themselves without intervention are going to be big, regardless of whether they were glamorous. "Customers are extremely interested in it," he said. He also advised solution providers to take a different look at how they view systems management. "Businesses want flexibility," he said. "Requirements are changing."

Kinghorn also hailed unglamorous albeit useful advances. The ability to define and encapsulate best practices in a repeatable way to improve business processes will be big, he suggested. These efforts, he said, will bring real dollars to a company's bottom line.

Iwanowski said he believed that tools that simplify systems and network integration will be big in the years ahead. Anything that can help a CIO from spending his or her day as chief integration officer will be warmly embraced. That's one reason why his company is so interested in delivering easier-to-use business intelligence and data-warehousing solutions. One thing that will make that vision become real more quickly: the ability to blend both structured and unstructured data seamlessly. "That will help is in our mission to go from data to information to knowledge. That's a key component of what we're trying to do," he said.

HP's Johnson says vendors will be challenged to create tools and applications that shift the focus from managing individual things to focusing on the identities of things as they come into the network. "That's going to be the next big shift," he said.

As for their own companies, the executives made candid observations about what they have done well and where they could do better. Smith, for example, noted the progress that IBM has made with its Express offering, but added that the company has learned a thing or two about what midsize customers want. His takeaway: Midsize companies don't require the power or robustness that IBM had figured they would, but they sure want things that are easier to use.

Sun's Singer noted that his company is working hard to make sure that it cements its relationships with partners because it has detected a trend toward consolidating vendors among them. "VARs carried more lines [in the past]," he noted. "Now there's only a small, handful of guys who carry all."

The key for Sun, he noted, was to provide opportunities for partners at the higher end of the solutions stack where margins are the highest and price competition the least.

-- Alexander Wolfe contributed to this article.

Article courtesy of VARBusiness and IT Utility Pipeline, Oct. 22, 2004

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