Upfront - 6

Girls Cant Do Physics

This story actually starts on a day when my older daughter and I walked across the sun-filled lawn at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. We visited the physics department so that my daughter, intent on becoming a physicist, could have a look around. An instructor there looked at me, then at my daughter, then dismissed us with, "Girls cant do physics."

That was 10 years ago, and, supposedly, much has changed. Indeed, the first day of the Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT Sept. 24 was devoted to a workshop exploring the problem of getting more women into science and technology. The proportion of women entering the sciences is growing, we were told. The number of women in management positions at technology companies is rising, conference speakers said.

And, to some extent, this is true. Sophie Vandebroek, chief technology officer at Xerox and president of the Xerox Innovation Group, said 40 percent of the engineers her company hires are women. And, she pointed out, thats twice the percentage of female engineers in the general population.

But if you look at the population of scientists and engineers in companies today, especially at a senior level, most are men.

At the EmTech conference (as its affectionately known at MIT) in Cambridge, Mass., I saw far more men than women in the audience, and the speakers talked about their problems in finding enough qualified women to work for them. However, isnt it possible the reason there arent enough women in science and technology doesnt lie with the companies? Is it possible its the fault of the universities where women get their training in the first place?

This past spring, I escorted my younger daughter on a college search similar to her sisters. A decade had passed, so I was hopeful. Once again, we enjoyed a rare spring like day in early April as we visited Charlottesville. Once again, we asked about physics for my daughter. "We dont have a lot of girls interested in physics," we were told.

We were more encouraged by other schools. Nearly half of MITs student body is women, for example, but the proportion of young women entering science and technology fields is much smaller elsewhere. At CalTech, its about 20 percent. Other schools we visited enrolled women in technical pursuits at levels somewhere in between.

When he opened the EmTech conference, Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, said he was the person at MIT who helped open the way for women. But when I asked him what schools can do to make women feel welcome in science and technology, he didnt say. And thats the problem.

If universities wont at least pretend to be interested in welcoming women into their science and technology departments, how can they expect those young women to be interested? If girls keep getting told they cant do physics, engineering, computer science or whatever, where will the supply of those new minds be found? —Wayne Rash

The Data Growth/Undercapacity Paradox

I had a chance to discover at the Ziff Davis Enterprise Storage Summit in Chicago Oct. 2 that theres a storage paradox no one seems to be getting a handle on: The amount of data that needs to be stored is growing faster than you can say "green IT," but that quantity is still being overshadowed by the number of physical servers spinning at less than half-capacity.

By most estimates, the amount of stored data in the world has grown from 5 exabytes (or 25 billion gigabytes) to 161 exabytes during the past five years. And theres no sign of a slowdown.

Fueling part of this growth are policy changes dictated by new regulations and changes to the federal rules for civil procedure; also driving the growth are the kinds of media were storing, which increasingly include video and image files.

Despite this explosion in hoarded data, however, storage servers in most data centers are only running at something like 33 percent capacity. Its as if we were drowning in data but unable to grab hold of the life rafts bobbing around us because theyre all banging together and smashing our fingers.

The end result is that companies are spending more money on purchasing physical servers (buying more life rafts) and powering them, and then spending even more money cooling the servers they didnt really need in the first place (crushing their fingers between the pitiless wooden hulls).

There are some obvious solutions to this problem, other than firing your IT staff and burning vendors in effigy.

These include actually listening to recommendations for buying stuff such as newer servers with virtualization capabilities baked in and applications that will reduce useless data duplication. (Its safe to say there are 50 copies of that e-mail you sent last week floating around your network, and, if youre a particularly egregious data duplication offender, make it 500 copies.)

There are also some less obvious solutions that companies should consider. Principal among these are ensuring that everyone agrees on who owns the data being stored (IT or the business manager) and who sets policies on access (IT or the legal department), and that software purchased by individual business units doesnt have features such as workflow, deduplication and e-discovery that conflict with new storage mandates.

But the single-biggest thing companies must do to fix the data saturation/undercapacity paradox is to change, because what theyre doing now isnt working. And therein lies the rub. As one Storage Summit attendee reminded me, resistance to change is not a modern phenomenon. Machiavelli wrote in "The Prince," his famous tome on governing, that "the initiator [of change] has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions, and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones." —Michael Hickins

Bermuda Short (On Connectivity)

Bermuda has nice coral reefs. Its also famous for rum swizzles, golfing and shorts worn as business apparel. The people in Bermuda are nice, too. They say, "Hello, how are you?" to complete strangers.

But connectivity? Thats another story.

On a vacation in Bermuda last month, I got zip for Sprint coverage: no roaming, no nothing, despite advertised roaming rates of $2 per minute. Look, Im calling right now, as I type, trying to determine why I couldnt get coverage.

Nobodys answering.

Sprint phone reps must all be in Bermuda, chewing on snorkels.

Oh, wait, heres a rep. Im supposed to do what now? Call to set up coverage before I leave the country?

Oh.

Well, I guess I could have found that out while I was in Bermuda, if I could have looked it up online.

During my trip, I did pop into an Internet cafe on a few occasions. The connection speeds were loathsome, and they cost me $4 for 15 minutes in St. George and $3.50 for 15 minutes in Hamilton. Do you know that feeling you get when you can hear the quarters clinking out of your pocket as you wait for pages to load?

Coral reefs, nice. Rum swizzles, fine. Connectivity? Uh-uh.

(And nobody in their right mind should pay to swim with dolphins. They swim just fine by themselves.) —Lisa Vaas

Google Marches On

Google on Oct. 3 added core security and policy management facilities to the Gmail application in its Google Apps Premier Edition via the purchase of Postini. Normally, such product additions are not a big deal, but this is Google.

Everyone is waiting with bated breath to see how the search and software vendor is going to endear itself to the enterprise to better compete with Microsoft, IBM and others in the office productivity and collaboration space.

Googles move has even gotten some analysts pumped up, which is generally not an easy thing for folks whove seen everything the industry has had to offer.

Take Gartner analyst Tom Austin, who has been covering corporate e-mail since the 1970s. Austin is particularly taken with the speed with which Google is rolling out improvements to Apps. (Postini security features come three weeks after the deal closed.)

"Youre hearing the march of the million-man army moving across the continent" with SAAS [software as a service] applications, Austin told me. "If they dont come out with something new every two weeks, Im going to be shocked. These guys are moving along in a way that nobody in the traditional software industry is, and nobody in IT frankly gets, and so I wouldnt be surprised to see them make more acquisitions here."

Austin wouldnt speculate on what acquisitions Google might make, but hes convinced we will see major additions to Apps—be they acquisitions or product upgrades—in the next few months. Im inclined to think we will see small buys to flesh out Apps features for the rest of the year. After that, who knows?

I asked Austin about Googles competition, specifically the free Lotus Symphony suite IBM unveiled in September and Microsofts Office Live Workspace, which was unveiled in early October.

Austin dismissed those moves in comparison with Googles SAAS initiative, saying that Microsofts news was more along the lines of "were thinking about [online collaboration], too," while IBMs Symphony news "sounded more like 1993 Lotus Development Company and AT&T announcing Network Notes than whats really going on today."

Austin conceded that Apps lacked the deep functionality of Microsoft Office but said he expects Google to change that on its "march."

Fair enough. We still have a long way to go before we get the kind of SAAS penetration rate Gartner is expecting—something in the vicinity of 25 to 30 percent during the next four or five years. But its fun watching a relatively young company blaze a new trail and leave in its wake a long trail of SAAS hopefuls. —Clint Boulton

Fear and Wireless

First its the fear. The pain in my chest had subsided, but that didnt stop fear from gripping my heart tightly as I was wheeled through the doors of the hospital emergency room in Fairfax, Va.

Then the hurried routine in the hospital began to unfold. The staff checked my blood pressure and pulse. They listened to my heart. I was asked to change into one of those short hospital gowns.

Just after Id gotten changed, a nurse pulled down the front of the gown and began sticking things to my chest. The metal contacts told me they were EKG sensors. I knew the real pain would come later, when they were torn free, but for now it was comforting to know that the staff would be alerted immediately to anything that might happen to me.

Then came something I didnt expect. After the leads were attached, the nurse connected a beige box. The leads passed through a hole in the front of my gown, and the small box was inserted into a pocket. At that point, true to the eWEEK spirit, I had a geek moment: "Wireless communications," I said aloud, to the annoyance of the technician who was trying to listen to my heart.

Id had a similar moment a few years ago when I found myself in a hospital in Las Vegas following an auto accident. My good friend Jan Ziff, then of the BBC, walked in to take a look at me and said excitedly, "Wayne, they have you attached to an HP laptop!"

I asked lots of questions at the hospital in Virginia, but the staff insisted on talking about medical things. Later I learned that GE Medical Systems made the Apex Pro that was attached to me. According to a GE rep, the wireless monitoring system can support as many as 300 people and cover the entire grounds of the hospital. I could go to the gift shop and be monitored if I wanted to.

I doubted that the gift shop staff would want me, considering my attire, but it was good to know. Equally useful was finding out that I could now get a Wi-Fi-based home monitoring system if I needed one. While telemetry has been around for a few years, it hasnt been well-publicized in the IT community. Wi-Fi telemetry is even less known because its new.

Fortunately, it turned out I didnt have a heart attack. Still, it was comforting to know that if I had, the hospital staff would have known immediately, regardless of where in the hospital Id wandered. —Wayne Rash