Comdex exalts the enterprise

Perhaps reflecting a renewed optimism within IT, the focus of last month’s Comdex trade conference in Las Vegas was specific to enterprise technology.

The shift, according to Comdex organizer MediaLive International, is a direct response from organizations for a scaled-down event that focuses less on consumer electronics and more on IT.

Most vendors in attendance fell in line with the shift in focus. Show themes included utility computing, security, wireless and the growing issue of spam. Companies such as Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) also used the event to unleash new offerings.

Many of the show panels, meanwhile, zeroed in on the continuing “Is IT relevant?” debate. During one discussion, Jonathan Spira, chairman and chief analyst for New York-based research firm Basex Inc., noted that IT will be experiencing considerable changes within the next decade. Managers need to prepare for changes in a couple of key areas, he said. These include creating physical and network infrastructures capable of growth and expansion, Spira said.

“The new workplace means the death of distance. By 2006, 40 per cent of knowledge workers will be working remotely,” he added. Collecting enterprise knowledge and know-how will be key to enterprise success and preparing for new work environments, according to Spira.

But despite the new “IT redux” format, some Las Vegas attendees weren’t impressed. The fact remains that many A-list vendors weren’t in attendance. Jai Agrawal, senior project manager for enterprise applications and information services at Boeing Satellite Systems Inc. in Los Angeles, said the smaller show’s lack of key vendors such as Oracle Corp. meant that part of his mission, identifying new technologies and learning how they might be adapted and integrated within his company, couldn’t be accomplished.

James Blaine, a United Auto Workers International union representative assigned to the information systems department at UAW-General Motors in Detroit and a five-time Comdex attendee, also expressed dissatisfaction with the show. “This used to be a one-stop shop” for information on technologies such as Linux, he said.

Longtime Comdex attendee Barton Ricketts, a certified network engineer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, Calif., said he came to the show this year to get information on deploying tablet PCs in the hospital to replace handheld devices. Ricketts said he was able to find some products from Acer America Corp. and Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp., but was disappointed that other vendors were absent on what has become a shrinking show floor.

“The big companies aren’t here,” he said.

Not everyone, however, believes Comdex is in decline. Paul Smigel, a consulting network engineer for the communications division at St. Louis-based wire and cable vendor Belden Inc., said he found information on several technologies he came to investigate, including a means of giving Universal Serial Bus device access to anyone on his network. The show still has value, Smigel said, though he agreed that it needed to attract more top vendors.

Smigel said he was particularly disappointed that Novell Inc. was absent, because he’s interested in the technology mix stemming from Novell’s recent acquisition of SuSE Linux AG. “I want to put my fingers in it and play with it,” he said.

Eric Faurot, vice-president and general manager of Comdex at San Francisco-based MediaLive, acknowledged that after the bankruptcy earlier this year of the show’s former owner, Key3Media, this year’s show is a relaunch of the Comdex brand. Organizers claimed the event drew over 50,000 attendees, well down from the 200,000 plus drawn previously.

In Canada, after postponing the Comdex Canada event last September – due to the “national economy, a drop in IT spending, and fears over the SARS outbreak,” according to the Comdex Canada Web site – plans are still on to feature the event in March of 2004.

Jim Povec, MediaLive International’s managing director of Canadian events noted that Comdex Canada is also undergoing a restructuring to focus more on IT-related issues. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, during his annual Comdex address, announced that Microsoft will add new antispam tools into its Exchange server and Outlook 2003 software. Microsoft also announced a new version of its Windows XP Tablet PC edition OS, code-named Lonestar. It is scheduled for release in the first half of 2004. Microsoft said it is actively encouraging developers to create programs that work with the fledgling Tablet PC’s handwriting capabilities.

Sun Microsystems Inc., in a move to bolster the chip’s profile, announced that it will launch new x86 servers running AMD 64-bit Opteron processors. Sun said the agreement with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD will see the two firms conduct joint sales and collaborate to optimize Solaris, Java and development tools for the AMD chip. The companies said they plan to work with third-party application vendors on Opteron support. AMD also announced that its 148, 248 and 848 server and workstation processors will be added to the Opteron series.

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