August 19, 2009

When New becomes old and old is Renewed Again?

OK, so I find myself again at 37,000 feet fighting dehydration and the limitations of American Airlines 1023 seat 9D, (hey at least it is an improvement over 14E of the previous flight leg.) Not that I relish flying anywhere these days, but at least my stay in Austin provided me with some renewed vigor in my esteem towards certain technology. In contrast, last week I was riding Caltrain, which provides infinitely more comfortable travel, but the event at Moscone West left me with far less good feeling about the technology marketplace.

Last week was the triple trade show: OpenSource World, Next Generation Data Center, and CloudWorld in San Francisco. For those not familiar with SF conventioneering, Moscone Center (North and South) comprise the mega underground convention center where many a successful trade show have boasted endless educational opportunities as well as an expo floor filled many vendors plying their wares for the adoring public. Moscone West is kitty corner from North and South, and does not boast the scale, or perhaps the cache, of its larger twin sibling. This triple trade show was in Moscone West, possibly a warning signal of its truly consolidated and limited nature.

Although the many educational sessions at the show undoubtedly proved valuable to their attendees, the modestly sized expo floor reflected poorly on the market level support for what are supposedly three of the hottest IT topics. While I will not claim that one could have been bowling down the expo aisles without hitting any attendees, it was the first hour of the exhibition on its first day. This was prime time, but the sheer numbers and excitement level seemed more akin to off season reruns on a Friday night. There were no elaborate mega booths, not very many big vendor names, and perhaps more telling, few vendors related to Linux or Open Source.

It is easy for me to accept the presence of few Open Source vendors in 2009, as most customers typically care much less about the software’s molecular composition as opposed to what it can do for their business. Perhaps Open Source, much like TCP/IP, is now just an accepted part of IT reality and no longer needs a trade show to raise its profile. However, for the other two topics, I don’t believe this to be the case. So, why is there apparently limited support from the marketplace?

With respect to Cloud Computing, the level of marketing FUD and muck has led to an environment where there are no broadly accepted definitions (even within some vendors) of just what the “cloud” is and where exactly it is collecting stray IT water molecules to be dispatched as needed. Is “cloud” a collection of technology, an API set, a philosophical approach, an outsourcing contract, another name for “grid”, or is it just an abused marketing term such as “ASP” that we will all run from in a couple of years? When the market cannot agree upon definitions, then articulating product and service offerings let alone differentiating them from the competition is very challenging. Maybe no one came, because no one knew what “cloud” meant and thus why it would be relevant to them?

While there has been talk of the next generation of data center for as long as there have been data centers, the reality of CAP EX on the balance sheet, the expense and availability of additional power and cooling as well as stretched IT resources have the attention of many an IT director and operations executive. The pain is obvious and regrettably commonplace, however, the problem is so massive that in some respects it might be easier to look the other way as long as possible, or at least pass the buck to facilities. The increasingly symbiotic nature between IT and facilities is not well understood by most. Thus, it is a lot to ask from an expo floor to be able to deliver simple off-the-shelf solutions to vexing, entrenched, systemic problems where the human elements are not even in alignment yet. Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect so.

So it seems that one of these “new” IT technologies (Open Source) is in danger of becoming mature and no longer worthy of being a discrete talking point, one lacks the basic definitions by which to have a meaningful discussion (Cloud), and one may prove too big and complex to talk about (NGDC). Not being able to define and therefore be able to talk about a subject or not wanting to talk about a complex subject leads to little discourse about either. Without talking, there is no chance of a conversation, let alone a sale. Perchance it should not be surprising that three shows combined into one yielded perhaps a third or fewer attendees than other “hot” topic shows in their prime. Underwhelmed, I rode Caltrain #256 home; at least I could feel good about supporting mass transit.

At least my flight to Austin would bring me a more positive technology outlook. One of the old marketplace stalwarts, the POWER processor, is due to have its latest incarnation discussed in some detail next week at Hot Chips 21. Although old by IT standards, POWER keeps being reinvigorated; it just keeps getting better with age. At an analyst only event in Austin, IBM briefed a few of us about many of the new capabilities that POWER7 as well as AIX 7 will bring. For aficionados of the processor family, POWER7 is likely to be a welcomed with open arms. For those who are the competition, POWER7 may prove itself to be more of a competitive nuisance than POWER6 or POWER5 were. Given, the NDA nature of the briefing, I can’t spill the beans on some of the exciting capabilities planned for the next round of POWER and AIX. However, some information about POWER7 will be made available at a Hot Chips session.

The preview of POWER7, AIX 7, and the Power System Software we collectively experienced in Austin addressed many of the issues that were thematic of the triple trade show of the week past. In fact, if the preview had taken place at the previous week’s show, maybe there would have been some palpable energy flowing on the floor.

Nevertheless, the three issues thematic to the under attended trade show will be addressed in many ways by the POWER7 et al once the details are made public. It is interesting to see once again, an “old” technology, driven by a “very old” company very aptly addressing a contemporary set of issues in the marketplace while a three-in-one trade show could not seem to muster an audience commensurate with the applicability of its theme.

American Airlines 1023 is now descending on approach to SJC. I definitely feel consolidated in this economy seat. It’s time for me to switch context and go sit in traffic on I-280. Now if only Cloud Computing could do something about that.