Upfront

Intel on Wall Street; pains in Spain; the world according to Oracle.

Intel Goes for Hard Sell on Wall Street

The Kitano Hotel is located on Park Avenue, near East 38th Street in Manhattan, but the real address that Intel executives were aiming their sales pitch at turned out to be another famous New York location—Wall Street.

A few days after Intel released its "Penryn" microprocessors, which are also the first to be manufactured on Intels new 45-nanometer process, company executives hosted a luncheon for Wall Street analysts where they pitched the processors as the ideal technology for crunching all those financial transactions that just seem to keep coming.

"This is Intels hard sell to Wall Street," one analyst quipped during the presentation.

While Intel has pointed to the benefits Penryn processors will bring to gamers and other PC enthusiasts who love watching clock speeds soar past 3GHz, the company wants its new family of chips to find a natural home in the corridors of financial power. To do that, it is pitching the chip as the preferred tool for crunching numbers while keeping cool in the same thermal envelope as previous processor families.

While Mark Bohr, an Intel senior fellow, gave a full rundown on everything Intel managed to pack into the new Penryn processors, Phil Marie was the one to extol the virtues of better microprocessors for the financial services sector.

Marie, senior vice president of network and Web operations at NASDAQ, explained how the stock exchange has ripped out all its old mainframe stuff for a newer, x86-based architecture. This, he said, has helped NASDAQ deal with a doubling of stock transactions in just the past six months. It has also helped the stock exchange as it has moved away from a centralized data center model to remote sites closer to customers.

To hammer the message home, several more Intel executives walked up to the microphone to talk about the new platforms the company has rolling off the assembly line to power a new generation of servers that will meet the growing needs of Wall Street.

During this time, the name "AMD" was hardly uttered, and the most pointed reference to Intels main rival was a reference to "the competition."

That other three-letter company—IBM—was chided for failing to produce a chip based on the chemical hafnium. IBM had announced that chip at about the same time Intel said it would use hafnium for its Penryn family.

Penryn is the new kid on the block, but that didnt stop Intel executives from talking about next year, when the companys tick-tock manufacturing model calls for an upgrade in micro­architecture, which is being called "Nehalem" for now, before another manufacturing shrink in the year 2009.

All the more reason why Wall Street can expect Intel to come calling again this time next year—and the year after that, and the year after that, and …

—Scott Ferguson

The Pains in Spain

I was fortunate to be sent recently on assignment to cover the annual Microsoft TechEd IT Forum in Barcelona, Spain.

I was truly excited about visiting a city so well-known for its rich architectural heritage, especially the enormous influence of Antoni Gaudi, whose cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, is the citys architectural icon. The cathedral is still unfinished, more than a century after work started. The cathedral is currently slated to be completed by 2025, but many Spaniards think 2050 is more likely.

But, hey, perfection and beauty take time, right? Sadly, "perfection" and "beauty" are two words that could not be applied—now or probably ever—to the enormous Barcelona International Convention Center, where the conference was held.

The convention center is situated on the northern Barcelona waterfront, but the location is less idyllic than it sounds: The center sits right next to the major sewage treatment plant and garbage combustion plant for Barcelonas several million inhabitants.

Suffice it to say that when the wind blew in the wrong direction, the stench inside the convention center was, well, putrid.

At least some of the conference delegates kept a sense of humor about it all, with one telling me that the smell was appropriate to the message coming from Microsoft about its products. Perhaps this was said tongue-in-cheek. … Im really not sure.

Apart from the stench, though, another little shocker was the flier handed to all attendees detailing the precautions they should take to keep themselves safe while in the city. "We are aware that there is some level of organized street crime in the city," it read, before listing some useful tips.

These tips included not wearing the TechEd attendee badge outside the conference center and avoiding displaying any TechEd or Microsoft merchandise while out in the evening.

But, what the flier didnt warn against was the crime inside the conference center, which one unfortunate British analyst found out about firsthand. She was having a series of briefings with Microsoft officials in one of the rooms that had been divided into four meeting areas. She briefly left the room between briefings, along with her host, after being assured it was safe to leave her belongings there. Upon her return, she found that all her possessions had been stolen, including her laptop, passport, wallet and travel documents. No one else in the room heard or saw a thing.

We were also not warned about how dangerous technology can be when faced with human limitations. One evening, late for dinner, I hailed a cab to get me to the restaurant as quickly as possible. The elderly driver did not speak a word of English, but he didnt need to as he simply typed the address into his navigation system. Off we went.

The problem was that the screen was so small, the driver had problems seeing it. This was not helped by the billows of cigarette smoke inside the car. Craning forward to see where he was supposed to be going, he took his eyes off the road for more than 10 seconds at one point—not a good idea in a city with very aggressive, fast drivers.

—Peter Galli

The World According to Oracle

After three days at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco in mid-November, I left with three key take-aways.

1) "Virtual" and "open" are the key concepts for how the resources and riches of the IT world are being divided and redivided, and these concepts have passed from emerging technology to business model for the opening decade of the 21st century.

Embodying both concepts in practice, Oracle VM, based on the Xen hypervisor, debuted during the opening keynote speech of OpenWorld. Now that IT software and hardware vendors, including Oracle, believe that they can make money on virtual services and open software—mainly by charging for support and getting the development at very low cost—I declare the concepts of virtual and open fully mainstream. To anybody who was waiting for the next Google, it has come and gone: Watch the "Genesis effect" as wide-scale implementation of the virtualization and open-source projects spread to the four corners of the Earth.

2) Speaking of our planet, while much ado was made of green technology at OpenWorld (and practically every other gathering of three or more people), Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz was the most honest person at the conference (when it comes to being green). During his Nov. 14 keynote address, Schwartz said that the "eco" in "eco-friendly" stands for "economic," not "ecology."

Oh, and he announced, along with Michael Dell, that Solaris will now be offered on Dell servers. The so-called greening of IT is really a response to the fact that an externality—namely, electricity—has risen in price enough to warrant the attention of the bean counters (in particular, in the United States; its been a bigger concern for decades in nearly every other industrial country).

The nearly simultaneous rise in the amount of computing (including the number of cores per proc­essor, the number of proc­essors in a server, RAM, disks and the accompanying cooling needed to keep this equipment functional) and the cost of electricity has unleashed a veritable fire-ant panic. The intersection of Moores Law and horse-in-a-barn-on-fire executive attention means money, money, money for IT vendors.

3) Oracle has taken big steps in streamlining the implementation and maintenance of Database 11g, (as I noted in my review of the product at eweek.com). What I assumed to be self-evident but will make explicit here is that Database 11g is an industrial database engine.

After sitting through several performance and benchmarking sessions led by Andrew Holdsworth, Oracles senior director of real-world performance server technologies, its clear to me that the most important thing for DBAs is a clear understanding of the data they are stewarding and for what purpose that data is to be used. There are no automatic parameter settings to specify these characteristics in Database 11g.

In one session with about 125 attendees, about one-quarter of the attendees raised their hands when asked how many people were considering a migration from Database 9i to 10g. Maybe the next question should have been how many were considering a leap from 9i to 11g.

Holdsworth called out storage costs as an issue in his talk on trends in database performance. Suns Schwartz highlighted ZFS (Zettabyte File System) as a possible answer (not to Holdsworth directly, I should add). ZFS, according to Schwartz, enables expensive, proprietary storage to be replaced by cheap, commodity hardware.

And that brings me full circle on virtual and open. Abstracting hardware storage is just the tip of the virtual open world. The fact that this all went down at Oracle OpenWorld, where Oracle was mentioned only in passing in most keynote presentations, is something Im still digesting.

—Cameron Sturdevant

Phoning It In

Rain.

It was an unusual sight as I glanced out the window of the Boeing 757 as it touched down at Washington Dulles International Airport. The aircraft slowed, and we took the high-speed taxiway toward Terminal D. I reached into my shirt pocket and took out my Motorola V3 Razr and turned it on.

The phone beeped to let me know that I had a text message—then another and another and another. The first one was from United Airlines, letting me know that my flight was arriving. I looked out the window again, comforted that reality and text messaging seemed to be in sync.

Then I went about the tedious process of replying to the other text messages. I worked my way through the predictive keypad typing and eventually finished. I realized that there had to be a better way. Meanwhile, my seatmate had drawn out his BlackBerry and was happily deleting e-mails as we waited for someone in the terminal to realize wed arrived and drive the air bridge to the door.

It was at that point that I recalled a conversation with a friend over dinner a couple of nights before. She told me with great enthusiasm how she just loved her BlackBerry. I thought about the time when I had a BlackBerry and remembered much less enthusiasm. I found the side-mounted wheel clumsy. And I could never remember how to perform a mass e-mail deletion, one of my favorite activities.

But then I remembered my colleague Cameron Sturdevants column from a couple of weeks ago, when he talked about the catastrophe of losing his Treo. I knew how hed felt, since I was faced with a similar, if less dire, problem when the battery died in my Palm T5. At least I didnt lose any data, as Id been very careful about performing frequent hot syncs.

So I thought about the Treo 680. Since Ive had Palm devices for years, I knew that Id like Palm OS. But would I like the Treo? I did the obvious and asked Cameron. It was clear that hed buy another Treo in a heartbeat. Since I respect Camerons opinions on things like this, Im thinking about a Treo as well.

But theres a problem: Im also a T-Mobile user. T-Mobile doesnt offer Palm products in the United States, but the company does offer BlackBerrys. So Im in a quandary.

Should I buy an unlocked Treo? Will it be fully functional on the T-Mobile network? Or should I buy a BlackBerry? Or should I abandon T-Mobile and move to AT&T so I can get a Treo?

Regardless of which device I use, its got to be GSM-based. I travel outside the United States often enough that CDMA isnt the answer. The good news is that the smart phones from T-Mobile and AT&T are all international. An unlocked Treo might work for me now. I probably cant buy an unlocked BlackBerry, but you never know.

Or maybe I can buy a T-Mobile Treo next time Im in Europe.

Or maybe I can just keep my increasingly ancient Razr and worry about it later. That would cut down on my ability to delete as much e-mail as possible, but it would be an easy decision. On the other hand, being productive while waiting for the airlines to do something sure would be handy.

—Wayne Rash