IT Sense and Sensibility

Opinion: European companies take a pragmatic view of technology.

I spent a few days in The Netherlands before heading over to the big CeBIT computer show in Hannover, Germany.

Other than concluding that New Orleanians should outsource the rebuilding of their city to the folks that keep Amsterdam dry (and Im talking about the land, not the taverns), the trip also provided an opportunity to meet with some emerging companies and take a trip to Delft University of Technology to check out its new data center.

Heres my admittedly random sampling of the state of the European high-tech business. First, Id say that business seems good. Companies invest in technology to meet compliance demands, reach new markets and increase efficiency. If that sounds eminently sensible, it is.

The "IT Doesnt Matter" discussion that was much the rage in the United States when Nick Carr first raised the topic in 2003 is not finding fertile ground in Europe.

When I had lunch with two executives from NetEconomy, in The Hague, I was impressed with their ability to meld technology and business acumen.

NetEconomy sells AML (anti-money-laundering) analysis tools to financial institutions worldwide.

AML (another new acronym for my high-tech lexicon) is unfortunately a very high-growth business, as more regulations and laws are passed in an effort to find and capture money launderers.

However, regardless of how strong the AML tools are, you still need experts with an understanding of the tools inner workings to use them to their full extent, said Saskia Rietbroek, a financial crime adviser with NetEconomy.

The business point for me was that the Europeans I spoke with on this trip werent getting bogged down in the business-needs-versus-technology argument I often run into in the United States.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read more about money laundering detection tools.

Maybe due to Europeans longer experience with heavily regulated societies, there is an understanding that, while technology isnt an end path in itself, it often is the only way to leverage a businesss expertise.

If you want to stay ahead of money-laundering organizations that are eager to move billions of dollars around the globe, you are going to have to make a technology investment to match their capabilities.

When I went to Delft University to get a firsthand look at its new $3 million data center, I was taken by how the construction of it was similar to the methods the Dutch use to keep the nearby ocean from pouring in over their lowlands with every storm.

The data center is essentially a secure box within an enclosed room high enough to weather any disaster.

The fiber leading to the center has redundant feeds on opposite ends of the building, the heating and cooling elements are redundant, and backup generators have enough fuel on hand for weeks worth of operation.

I guess if you live in a country that is below sea level, you learn to think about redundancies. The 14,000 students at the university each have 100M bps Internet access for $17.88 per month.

If a trip to Asia can remind you of how far the United States is behind in access speeds and service reliability, a trip to Delft can provide the same feeling from Europe.

As I boarded the train in Amsterdam for my trip to CeBIT, I jotted down a few other thoughts from my random European sampling, which I was going to retest after a few days at the giant trade show.

The sense that Google will just continue to grow forever is much less a given from the folks I spoke with in Europe.

The sense I have that Google has had almost too much success early on and is now floundering a bit as it tries to decide if it is a search engine, a media company or an Internet access competitor was echoed in some of those tavern and coffee shop conversations.

I suppose being in a city where tulips are both a flower and a reminder of a bubble that burst in the 1630s can give you a sense of historical perspective that not even Google can grow forever. Next week, Ill write about whether my views were borne out at CeBIT.

eWEEK magazine editor in chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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