Unlimited compute capacity coming, IBM says

Yesterday’s mainframes will be tomorrow’s smart phones, according to IBM Canada Lab director Martin Wildberger, who predicts unlimited computing capacity is just around the corner.

Speaking to computer sciences researchers and academics at Tuesday’s IBM-sponsored Centre for Advanced Studies Conference (CASCON) in Toronto, the IBM Canada Ltd. executive pushed the unlimited computing capacity idea and discussed the effects it would have on global organizations and how they do business.

Throughout the year, IBM has continually pushed its “smarter planet” initiative, which looks to prepare companies for a world that is smaller and more economically integrated.

With the globe becoming more digitalized, sensor and RFID technology is starting to become “abundant, pervasive, and ubiquitous,” Wildberger said. At the same time, the world is becoming more interconnected with mobile phones and an increasing online access rate, which has raised the expectations of consumers and continued to force businesses to react more quickly.

With an unlimited amount of data being created and available to Canadian businesses, the ability to actually use it becomes the most important challenge.

In Norway, the country’s largest food manufacturer Nortura is using IBM sensor technologies and InfoSphere traceability tools to monitor food from farms all across the country, through the supply chain, and eventually to the retailer’s shelves.

“When I was in line at Subway recently, the lady in front of me asked the owner whether or not the cold cuts they were using were from Maple Leaf Foods,” which was the source of a fatal listeriosis outbreak last year,Wildberger said. The ability to track such data now has the potential to either make or break your business, he said. 

At Airbus S.A.S., the company’s new A380 double-decker jets are being outfitted with a full lounge bar, on-demand video panels, and even on-board showers.

During production, A380 planes are moved to multiple countries across Europe before they  reach their final assembly stop in Toulouse, France. Wildberger said that RFID tags are being put on all of the parts, which is especially crucial during the assembly stage.

“(For the A380), it’s like building a house from your closet,” he said. If the wrong container of parts arrives at the top level of the plane, a lot of time and effort can be wasted looking for the right container.

In the automotive industry, Wildberger said, some companies are looking at driving pattern information and trying to develop a real-time system that will detect whether a driver is going to fall asleep or not. They would accomplish this by monitoring any changes a driver makes while using the accelerator and the steering wheel, he said.

The need to take advantage of all this newly available data has also spurred on many cities to launched “smart initiatives,” Wildberger said. At the City of Chicago, the emergency response management system is taking advantage of audio triangulation technology in select neighbourhoods.

“That means when there’s a gunshot, sensors are able to determine where the gunshot was,” he said. Rolling this technology out citywide would get police to the scene of a crime faster and hopefully reduce criminal activity in general.

Doug Heintzman, director of strategy for IBM’s Lotus Software, said Big Blue’s smarter planet idea should also filter down to the internal workings of global enterprises.

He referred to social analytics as the ability to understand how people work together in an organization and how knowledge is built-up via social networking tools.

“If somebody sends me an e-mail about something, the system itself should understand the key words, feed them as input into the business intelligence engine, and generate a report,” he said. The future of enterprise communication will be dynamic systems that connect people and data instantly, he said.

“Embedding this type of communication ability into everything we do is essential,” he added.

But despite the fact that some companies appear to be buying into IBM’s smarter planet initiative and trying to take advantage of the seemingly endless supply of consumer data being generated, these organizations are still in the minority.

Wildberger referenced IBM data, which indicated that 85 per cent of compute capacity is idle and 70 cents of every dollar spent on IT goes to maintaining systems rather than taking advantage of new data.

The companies that make the investment to get smarter, and actually take advantage of all the data created in a world with unlimited computing capacity, will be the most successful in the future, he added.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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