CeBIT show unites IT, telcos and consumer electronics

HANNOVER, GERMANY – It’s easily the largest computer and telecommunications exhibition in the world. With almost 500,000 visitors a year and more than 6,000 exhibitors showing their wares in more than 300,000 square metres of exhibition space, CeBIT 2005 is a truly daunting event. By contrast, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas only draws about 130,000 visitors and less than half the number of exhibitors as CeBIT.

To get an idea of the scope of this show, you need to know that it has 27 exhibition halls — most of which are easily the size of several footballs fields — all housed on a massive single site that includes vendors selling everything from office furniture to wireless network systems. It’s like the Comdex of old combined with CES — and then a whole bunch of other trade fairs thrown into the mix.

Many IT, network and telecom vendors large and small took advantage of this massive, but often overlooked, international event to make new product announcements. Cisco, for example, announced a follow-on to its recent NAC initiatives with “significant updates” to its network-based storage virtualization solutions.

The company said that these updates, announced on the first day of the CeBIT show, will allow it to work with a wide variety of independent software vendors (ISVs) to jointly address key customer “pain points” around storage provisioning, data migration and replication, backup and recovery, disk capacity utilization, and storage management costs.

Cisco explained that these new solutions, or “Intelligent Fabric Applications,” are based on open standards such as Fabric Application Interface Standard (FAIS). If you’re beginning to feel an acronym-based headache coming on from all this, just know that the goal of all this work is to deliver a common framework for implementing storage applications in storage area networks (SANs).

It is yet further evidence of Cisco’s drive to embrace industry standards anywhere and everywhere it can find them. The company said its “commitment to standards will help foster industry-wide interoperability to provide customers more flexibility in choosing the best solution for their business/IT requirements while driving down the total costs associated with managing their data”.

There was also news from home-grown German enterprise software vendor SAP, whose chief executive officer Dr. Henning Kagermann spoke at the official opening ceremonies for the show (acting as the warm-up act for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder).

SAP made a joint announcement with computer processor giant Intel about a new initiative aimed at making radio frequency identification (RFID) technology easier to use — and help companies overcome the challenge of making business cases for RFID implementations.

The companies say this joint effort will offer customers the choice of either integrating their RFID hardware directly into backend systems and business processes or using device management partners to manage their hardware environment. They further suggest that direct integration provides “a streamlined approach to the customer’s RFID implementation and is best utilized in less complex business environments”.

The idea of this device management partner approach is to “enable the customer to manage a more complex environment comprising multiple device types from different vendors.” The companies say that their collaboration introduces a new RFID concept, enabling companies to integrate RFID data directly into backend systems.

Companies can implement the solution on any Intel-based RFID backend hardware (such as servers) and front-end hardware such as desktops, notebooks and RFID readers, regardless of provider.

They further claim that this solution will “likely result in faster adoption of RFID devices, creating a plug-and-play environment.” As part of the deal, Intel will also supply the necessary technology to allow for a device management solution to be delivered through SAP’s NetWeaver platform.

The announcement was only one part of an overall approach to IT development articulated by Dr. Kagermann in his keynote speech. “For the first time in the history of our industry, we can and must make a central contribution to making our companies competitive,” he said. “We need to turn companies’ and consultants’ business ideas into reality — easily and in real time. This requires the right mix of proven best practices and innovative next practices. It also requires easy integration of new IT solutions in existing landscapes. And it is forcing development of technologies that offer this flexibility at low cost.”

Dr. Kagermann further suggested that enterprises are once again starting to look at IT spending as an investment, rather than just a cost. “There’s a new awareness for the transformational, strategic importance of IT,” he said. “And it isn’t emerging from the uncritical enthusiasm of the new economy. The potential for growth in our industry today is maybe even bigger than back then. But with this new growth, responsibility is increasing disproportionately. So that we don’t disappoint this growing enthusiasm, we in the IT industry need to be aware of our responsibility and act accordingly.”

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