CES: ITs Consumer Proving Ground
Heres a tech project: Take lots of disparate electronic devices, tie them all in to a new server and make each device available to everyone. Does this sound like some major technology project at your company? It isnt.
This project will take place in your living room as your family demands that you build a network out of the television, music systems and your computer, just like the vendors at the recent International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas said you could.
When I attended the show, I was struck by how similar many of those consumer-oriented products are to the workaday world of corporate technology. Vendors get onstage, promise a new world of compatible computing and soon usersin this case, your familyare wondering why you cant build a network like they did onstage. Maybe you could tell your family that even the vendors have a hard time building their own networks, despite millions of dollars and hundreds of tech-savvy employees.
The big trend at CES was for component vendors such as Intel to team with Internet platform companies such as Yahoo and promise to deliver television on demand or games on demand or anything that could be made digital on demand. The problem, however, most exemplified by an embarrassing onstage freeze for Yahoo, is that the systems are still not up to the promise.
The difficulties of building scalable, secure and flexible systems are compounded when their fragility becomes apparent to anyone with a Web browser. When Yahoo television freezes or Salesforce.com experiences a hiccup or Bloglines is unavailable, those system crashes are available for all to see.
While it was interesting to see Tom Hanks and Robin Williams onstage, the real make-or-break obstacles will be in the infrastructure build-out that the big Internet platform vendors create. Pushing video, offering pay- per-view packages and streaming sports programs to hundreds of thousands of viewers is an undertaking that surpasses previous efforts.
In the "Is IT important?" argument, the success of Google Video and Yahoo television will, in large part, depend on the technology decisions of their companies. System crashes that make video unavailable or make video widely available beyond the confines of the content creators digital rights expectations could sink these much-hyped offerings.
What Internet platform vendors use to build those systems is of much interest to corporate computing in the United States. New multicore chips, grid computing techniques and operating systems that make full use of 64-bit-and-beyond systems will be needed to build out the networks that vendors are promising.
Intel used the CES stage to unveil its Viiv dual-core technology, which replaces the Pentium brand as the companys primary platform. I expect to see those chips and those from rival AMD make inroads into the corporate environment as the multimedia experience in the home gets translated into high-end corporate applications in video and multimedia environments.
Google, Yahoo and Amazon.com are reluctant to share their knowledge of how they build their Internet platforms. When Salesforce. com hit a glitch, the company would provide only limited information on what went wrong. That attitude should be re-examined. Those large Internet platform vendors are asking consumers to become their paying customers and are asking companies to partner with them in service offerings.
Part of asking a company to partner with you is describing the technology on which you will have to rely. Amazon.coms order-tracking system changed the expectations of corporate Americas manufacturing systems, as managers suddenly wanted to be able to track their companys inventory as easily as they could track their book orders.
I suspect those video offerings (if successful) will change the expectations corporate managers have for their IT systems. CES real message for the corporate technologist is that, once again, more is going to be expected of you to make your corporate network as feature-rich and robust as a Yahoo or a Google.
Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.