IBM Labs 3-D Doesn't Look That Cool

My news colleague Clint Boulton got a look at IBM's three-dimensional data center modeling software tool. IBM's 3-D data center management system is actually quite retro ... CA developed a 3-D interface for its Unicenter system management platform in 1997. I think 3-D interfaces are as bad an idea today

My news colleague Clint Boulton got a look at IBM's three-dimensional data center modeling software tool.

IBM's 3-D data center management system is actually quite retro ... CA developed a 3-D interface for its Unicenter system management platform in 1997. I think 3-D interfaces are as bad an idea today as they were when I first flew around in CA's Unicenter.

Here are the reasons why:

1. The video game interface is great for selling management systems on the golf course, but impractical in an operations center. System, network and application managers need to see what isn't working, quickly. In my testing experience, 3-D interfaces are ineffective at showing problems quickly.

2. Lists are better. A simple color-coded list that puts high-priority problems at the top is much more effective than a system that requires clambering around in a 3-D interface.

3. Three-dimensional interfaces are ineffective at sharing valuable management console space with other management tools. The amount of real estate needed to display 3-D icons is out of proportion to the amount of information displayed when compared with a list.

I'm a believer in the appropriate use of technology. Visualization tools are great for transforming numerical data into instantly digestible charts. Visual cues are sometimes useful (such as in airplane cockpits) for providing immediate warnings about trouble conditions.

However, sending an avatar on a walk through the server racks in a virtual data center isn't the best use of anyone's time, including the engineers who wrote the interface in the first place, the system consultants who will have to be paid to set up the system and the operators who will have to guide their avatars to the problem spot.