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In search of the holy grid

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If IBM has its way, we will all eventually buy computing off the ‚grid‚ like electricity. DUSTIN GOOT reports from Comdex on the reinvention of the enterprise.

We will buy computing off the grid like electricity. We will pay for computing “by the drink.”” Computing in the future will resemble getting milk in the store rather than owning your own cow ‚Äî or storing cash at the bank instead of stuffing it in your mattress.

Clearly, the notion of grid computing does not lack for metaphors. All of the above samples were taken from a Monday afternoon at CRN-hosted panel at the Comdex expo currently on in Las Vegas, entitled “”Re-Inventing the Enterprise,”” and they refer to a push by IBM to deliver IT functions as third-party services taken from a giant, networked computing pool.

Yet for all the ease in finding ways to describe the concept, no one is quire sure how well it captures the way computing will evolve.

The comparisons indicate, according to IBM marketing VP Scott Cooper, “”a fundamental change going on in the way technology is applied.””

Others were not so sure. “”I think that, conceptually, it’s right on,”” said Jeff Campbell, CIO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, but he said it would take time for the technology to present a compelling business case.

General Motors CTO Tony Scott expressed a similar sentiment, saying he noticed a trend toward commoditization and standardization of IT applications that could lead to managed Web services, but adding, “”I think the journey is long.””

Cooper freely admitted that the shift would take time, noting that business consulting and systems integration will remain a large portion of IBM’s business. However, he felt that an on-demand computing model was “”beginning to gain traction”” in more advanced IT operations and pointed out that IBM “”has the luxury of putting a great deal of investment in very long-term technology plays.””

Grid computing was not the only topic of discussion at the panel, but it seemed to create the highest level of engagement among the participants.

The paperless office

Another prolonged exchange hinged on the state of the art in displays and whether they can lead to a paperless office. Samsung marketing VP Ray Roque said that plasma and LCD screens are not only becoming smaller and cheaper, but also modularized, so they can be paired with intelligent chips that deliver personalized information wirelessly to the viewer. But he imagined the most likely application to be targeted outdoor ads, not office products.

Actually, the paperless office is further away than ever, according to Lexmark’s Kevin Goffinet. For short-term, ad-hoc storage and consumption of information, paper is still the overwhelmingly preferred medium, he said. Digital technologies have caused an increase in paper documents because more information is available, he continued, and companies need some digital alternatives just to manage their paper costs.

Goffinet stated that the real opportunity involving paper is not replacing it, but finding ways to store and file it after the initial, ad-hoc use. Managing this transition could lead to major productivity gains, he said.

Also sparking some debate was the subject of Linux as a tool for re-invention. Cooper professed a strong belief at IBM in the potential of Linux, though not necessarily all things open source.

The IT managers in the trenches were somewhat less sanguine. Campbell worried that Linux was a good idea that might never turn into a viable enterprise product. Scott noted that although GM uses Linux in some places, it has not achieved the cost savings that technology promises because “”we haven’t found people who know how to price Linux yet.””

Other trends noted by the panel include greater storage demand, increased outsourcing — or offshoring — of IT resources, and the importance of identity management as a foundation for security.

The session was moderated by CRN editor-in-chief Michael Vizard.

Dustin Goot is an associate editor of Comdex newspaper The Preview. Contact him at dustin.goot@medialiveintl.com.

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