Molecular computing on the way: HP

Trying to transform your business practices with IT is like juggling chainsaws – there are ugly consequences if something goes wrong, said Ann Livermore, president of HP Services during a keynote address at Hewlett-Packard’s HP World conference in Chicago.

There are important changes happening in the IT landscape, she said. IT solutions will be delivered as an e-service in the future, according to Livermore.

“This means that computing, storage, applications, all these kinds of things are going to be provisioned, they’re going to be delivered, they’re going to be metered, they’re going to be purchased as services.”

In the future, we will also see an intertwining of the physical and digital worlds, she said. “This is really part of the evolution of connected environments.”

Eventually, networks will become more transparent, she said. In the future, users will be able to boot once and never take their systems down again – and they will work invisibly in the background, Livermore said. Along with the invisible infrastructure, smart devices will become more prevalent.

She also envisions a future in which molecular and atomic technology will perform unimagined feats.

“Just the power you can imagine if you let your mind run to have computing the size of molecules, storage the size of atoms. It really says all sorts of things about just how smart a handheld device could become.”

HP and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently announced a joint US$2.5 million quantum computing project to advance computing development beyond its current physical limits. The project is part of a US$25 million, five-year alliance launched in June 2000. Researchers at HP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif. and Bristol, England will work with their counterparts in MIT’s Media Lab.

In order to gear up for the future, HP is concentrating on three vectors – an always-on Internet; intelligent connected devices and environments; and enabling e-services.

“These are three very important vectors, and they’ll spontaneously connect to perform a task and disconnect when the task is completed.

“We’ll see the emergence of a new computing architecture – we call it service-centric computing – where technology resources that people need such as processing devices, storage devices are all delivered as services.”

These advances will allow such possibilities as letting our home appliances talk to each other, a concept that HP calls Cooltown. But some wonder why such technology is needed.

“I think it’s a matter of they don’t quite know why you want it now, but as it gets woven into the fabric of life, people will start using it and they’ll find a particular application that they use and then suddenly it will be all around them,” said Lynn Anderson, vice-president for enterprise marketing at Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont.

“I remember thinking, why would I want a mobile phone? Why would I want to be working in the car. You know, I actually enjoy driving. And now I can’t imagine life without a cell phone,” she said.

But as these trends are happening, all of us are dealing with real-life business problems and challenges, she said. Companies are looking to IT to grow their revenue and decrease their cost. Companies are using IT to link to partners and streamline their supply chain. They are using CRM systems to increase customer loyalty, and business-to-employee portals to increase employee productivity, Livermore said.

“What this all adds up to . . . is you can’t separate business success with IT success. And in most organizations, your business is inextricably linked with your IT. And in fact, the quality of your IT is becoming a direct reflection of the quality of your business.”

As far as quality goes, Gwyn Clay believes HP’s Unix system – HP-UX – is one of the better Unix systems out there.

“They are one of the easiest platforms to port to,” said Clay, manager of product development for Markham, Ont.-based Cybermation Inc., an enterprise workload management solutions vendor. Sun’s system, however, is even easier, he said.

“The Unix market has dropped down to a three horse race from what we see from our sales.” HP-UX, Sun’s Solaris and IBM’s AIX account for 85 per cent of Cybermation’s Unix box sales, Clay said.

But that might not be enough.

HP recently announced that it was going to lay off 6,000 employees in Q3.

“They’re going through some tough times right now,” said IDC Canada research manager, servers and storage, Alan Freedman in Toronto.

“However, they’re still a quality company,” he said. “Luckily for HP they have printers on their side. That’s a cash cow for them.”

HP also announced its intention to begin selling its own version of Linux, focusing on creating what it calls an ultra-secure version of the operating system instead of relying on partner distributions as it has in the past.

It will be known as HP Secure OS Software for Linux – and will stress security features. Linux has been championed as a highly scalable operating system, but HP says customers such as telecommunications companies are looking for a more secure version of Linux that could run on their Web servers, according to an HP representative.

The company will make its Linux distribution available on HP servers as well as other non-HP hardware that passes qualification tests. HP will also offer a host of consulting services around the operating system to help make sure customers take advantage of the security features in the product.

HP believes in giving customers a choice, Freedman said. So Linux is “a good choice for them. It opens up the market for them.”

HP will sell its version of Linux for about US$3,000.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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