Comdex Promises Renewed Focus On Enterprise IT

eWEEK's Peter Coffee sees an overall sharpening of the Comdex focus on the needs of enterprise IT.

This is the first year in my 16 years of November trips to the desert that people actually seem surprised Im making time to go to Comdex. The show wont be painfully crowded this year, but neither will it be a ghost town, and the floor will feature long-absent logos including those of both Intel and Dell.

I see these returns as part of an overall sharpening of the Comdex focus on the needs of enterprise IT, and I hope to find that focus in the keynote speeches as well.

The leadoff keynote, from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, will propose a focus on "computing in the real world." Microsoft and its customers would do well to keep that idea uppermost because the problems afflicting buyers and sellers of Microsoft products are those that arise when IT has to survive on the street. I give full credit to Microsoft for being among the pioneers of usability research, but theres a difference between building things that workers can use and building things that criminals and vandals cannot abuse. The second task is much more difficult.

The entire premise of Microsofts "Longhorn" initiative is that information should be better integrated, and developers—as I noted last week—love that idea. Enterprise buyers, though, want to be sure that the resulting structure puts valuable assets in a well-protected vault rather than leaving them in a warehouse with no locks on its (ahem) windows.

Without that commitment, Microsoft will find the current hesitation on the part of IT buyers turning into active migration toward other platforms—such as the one that Sun CEO Scott McNealy will be showing, not for the first time, in his own keynote speech. Ive test-marketed Suns approach to centrally managed and supported client sessions, not in the reality distortion field of Comdex, but in the real-world setting—to borrow Microsofts phrase—of meetings with eWEEK readers. I find their response to be a dropped-jaw, "Why hasnt Sun tried to sell me this?"

Memo to Scott: Stop telling people what not to like, and tell them what youre prepared to deliver. At the same time, make sure that Suns tent has room underneath it for Linux. Microsoft has thrown down a challenge with its commitment, announced last week, to provide Linux virtual machine support under the Virtual PC environment that Redmond recently acquired from Connectix.

That move demonstrates Microsofts conviction that it can compete with Linux on overall value in environments using both platforms; Sun must show comparable courage, and Suns customers should demand it.

Unlike Gates and McNealy, whose dueling keynotes are a trade show tradition, the keynote on Tuesday morning from Siebel Systems chairman and CEO, Thomas Siebel, will be his first appearance here. His planned message of "CRM for everyone" is in step with what we hear from eWEEKs Corporate Partner advisers, who tell us that small and midsize enterprises are making CRM investments as the price of being in the game with the big boys, whether as competitors or as partners.

If CRM tools and services are not on your shopping list for next year, dont wait for Siebel to convince you. There are many CRM approaches, and I wouldnt support a message of "Siebel for everyone." However, at least one CRM initiative belongs on every enterprise IT agenda.

Finally, I urge even those not coming to Las Vegas to pay attention to Wednesdays keynote comments from Symantecs chairman and CEO, John Thompson, whose presentation is titled "Living and Working in a Securely Wired World." That "wired" seems a little out of date, but that just intensifies the point: We increasingly entrust our lives and our fortunes to vulnerable IT infrastructures. Symantecs security services, Id add, are as close as weve yet come to having an Underwriters Laboratories to monitor the safety of it all.

And if theres one thing that a trip to Las Vegas should yield, its a new appreciation of the need to balance the sizzle and spectacle of IT with a healthy respect for keeping it secure.

Technology Editor Peter Coffees e-mail address is peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.