Monday, December 18, 2017
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Predictions for 2004

This past year has been a time of reorganization and consolidation. We've seen numerous companies acquired (a good briefing on this can be found on Amy Wohl's Opinions Newsletter), which was heartening considering how the year's economy started out. We have seen shifts in strategy to accommodate the marketplace. Some showed potential (e.g. Novell makes strong Linux move and acquires SuSE, some showed suicidal tendencies (SCO's lawsuits).

What we didn't see was anything terribly exciting in either the hardware or software marketplace. Yes, yes, Microsoft rolled out its new server and desktop series of software, but this was strictly an evolutionary step. If anything, just more 'sticky paper' to embrace (read 'trap') users into an 'all Microsoft all the time' environment. Intel began pushing its Centrino chipset and making an interesting shift in its marketing [propaganda] away from 'it's the gigahertz, it's the gigahertz', to it's 'total performance' that counts. Haven't we heard that somewhere before? Oh yeah, AMD has been screaming that for about 2 years. Regardless, none of these things was earth shattering.

Businesses cycled their purchases of desktops and servers in a predictable fashion, and consumers purchased on price. There was no strong motivation for change or upgrade save product life cycle. The next 12 to 16 months is going to change that.

Form Factor

Contrary to what most of your spam would indicate, smaller is better. There have been some wonderful developments in the ever-shrinking PC platform and I believe this is going to be the year it has a strong impact on the marketplace. Intel and AMD have, of course, shrunken their dye and chip size while increasing performance and reducing power consumption. There have also been some terrific small form-factor motherboards introduced and incorporated into systems (i.e. the Shuttle) along with integrated motherboard and CPU combos such as the M10000 series from VIA.

So why should this make any particular difference now? Simple! We have more than enough power in today's CPU's to accommodate the vast majority of office tasks. Word processing, common spreadsheets and presentations don't need 3Ghz (or XP3200+ if you prefer) power to function properly and efficiently. Desktop real estate is at a premium and corporations are looking for anything they can find to save costs.

These small form factor systems can be configured to any need and have all the common I/O's built in (VGA, USB, 10/100 Ethernet etc.). The really interesting part is that they draw much less power. We set up a test system using the VIA M10000 ) and Mini-Box daughter board and external power supply. The integrated 1 GHz CPU handled all standard tasks effortlessly and the power consumption is like that of a laptop. Multiply that by several hundred (or thousand) desks and the utility savings alone will start paying for the equipment. In 2004 I would look for more of these ITX and similar small form factor systems to start making a major presence in the corporate and 'appliance' spaces.

Home Enterprise

This is a term we've been using in our offices for several months now. It denotes the same kind of network usage and requirements for the home and SOHO user that we find in the corporate enterprise. We believe the next 12 to 16 months is going to be a major breakout period for the home network, media center and related appliances and equipment.

For several years there was a running battle as to what would be the dominant technology model in the home; the PC or the TV. Well, the war's over and the winner is….the screen.

With the advent of the large format Plasma and LCD screens the PC has been usurped as the place to do things with the TV relegated to just watching things. Now they are one and the same.

I can word process or surf the web just as easily on a 42" plasma as I can a 17" monitor. OK, truth is it is definitely cooler on a big screen. As the prices on these items fall to below $2000 (it's not that far off), more and more households will be hooking up media centers and home servers to accommodate their more digital lifestyle.

At Comdex a few months ago (yes, there was a Comdex, it was not just a rumor), we saw a nifty concept from Niveus Media, the "Blackbox Personal Server" that doubles as a media backup system. This small form factor (ITX) box attaches to the home network, identifies the systems on it and allows for backup of all media files (pictures, mp3's etc.) to a centralized location. This means individual systems don't necessarily have to be on-line for the user (or family) to be able to view the items on that big screen we mentioned a few sentences back. This also facilitates listening to music or watching home videos. The point is, this is a network 'backup' and central storage system that differs little in concept from that which we would find in the corporate enterprise.

Wireless Technology

Wireless is another aspect that will explode in the home space. As the technology matures and transmission of both data and video streams becomes more realistic, connection of virtually everything will be commonplace. And yes, there is even the possibility that the dreaded 'internet appliance' will once more rear its head. This time however, it will be a nicely networked device with a small LCD screen or interface to the TV, and will actually have a practical function.


Storage, Storage and More Storage

There was a time when the programming and data for an entire business fit comfortably on 10MB of hard disk space. You can't load Windows in less than a few hundred megabytes now and things are only getting worse. Businesses and consumers are saving everything to their hard drives. The reasons vary from legal safeguards to government requirements to the ability to share pictures of little Jimmy's birthday party with the grandparents. Whatever the reason, storage requirements are increasing almost geometrically. To solve this we will need to see more products of the NAS (network attached storage) and SAN (it's cousin, storage attached networks) varieties along with the software and services to manage them. This is going to mean better directory services and data mining capability for the corporate enterprise and more effective organizational tools for the consumer market.

Summary

We look for four major areas of product growth:

  • Small form factor and integrated systems
  • Home enterprise and related media products
  • Wireless connectivity to just about everything
  • Storage and the software to manage it

The technology is here, it's cheap and the industry is hungry. The catalyst to a more vibrant marketplace will be the development of novel applications of the technology and the software to implement them. We leave for CES later this week for a look at all the shiny new toys coming to the market. We'll let you know in future issues what we've seen and how it stacks up.

To all our readers, the best to you and your families in the New Year!