Further reports from a tribe not my own that speaks a language I have to work to understand. But I do like computers, and the trade-show floors (note plural) are beyond vast and have lots of ’em on display, so there are some big-iron pix in among the tourist narrative.

Cisco Unified Computing System

To warm up, the chaste, minimalist decor of a rack full of Cisco’s new UCI line. A competitor’s salesguy told me over beers one night “They’re getting traction here and there just because they cut down on the number of wires”.

The big deal today was the keynote from Thomas Kurian, which included multiple demos and on-stage visits from big-name Oracle customers.

I watched all of it, feeling like an anthropologist observing a society entirely foreign to my own. Mr. Kurian was described to me by an insider in these words: “Amazing guy. works non-stop. super sharp, won't be bluffed (on tech or business matters). No sense of humor whatsoever.” His presentation was almost entirely in the language of press releases: “Leading provider”... “best of breed”... “integration”... “business solution”... “integrated”... “unified, modern multi-channel user experience”... “from insight to action”... “robust management”... “unsurpassed performance integration”.

Since I’ve never encountered this style of speech in un-ironic conversation, I wasn’t really sure how to interpret it. The demos, mostly centered around a fictitious company with mucho problems (user experience, integration, supply-chain management, system performance, and security) had modest production values, but the message was clear: Oracle’s working really hard on making everything in its big software inventory work together.

I spend lots of time with businesspeople and, while they don’t talk like geeks, they don’t talk like press releases either. The difference seems to be that they don’t mind listening through the marketing language to pick out what’s important in the message; while a geek would just blow it all off. Communication is an extremely complex process.

Massive Sun/Oracle storage array

This is a storage array. The print on each of those boxes that you probably can’t read even if you blow it up says “SAS2 600GB 15000 RPM 6Gbps”. Well, then. This is part of the OLTP-focused configuration that has just set all those benchmark records.

Sun M9000, interior

The inside of a Sun M9000, a mainframe by any sane description; a recital of the core-count or throughput or memory-capacity numbers would sound like bragging.
It’s big.

After Thomas Kurian finished, Michael Dell took the stage. He has tons of charisma and a good speaking style, is fun to watch. I was baffled when, as soon as he started preaching the virtues of virtualization, the audience started filing out in hundreds (to be fair, leaving many thousands behind). Virtualization may be a little boring, but it’s important; afterward someone told me that the session had been running late and people were heading for the breakouts they wanted to catch.

Dell and his CIO gave a solid presentation, I thought. He beat the drum you hear from the big-iron companies, about how too much of the IT spend goes to maintenance-and-legacy, too little to making-things-better. Hard to disagree with that. I’ll refrain from speculating what effect the Sun acquisition might have on the Dell relationship.

IBM System Z interior
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IBM System Z interior

Two interior shots of an IBM System Z mainframe, racks mostly empty and lighted for aesthetic effect. The big-iron-visuals class of the show, if you ask me; I got a lengthy and enjoyable pitch on its virtualization and I/O-bandwidth virtues. The same instruction set that I first ever programmed to, all those years ago.

I didn’t make it to many sessions because the hallway-and-lunch talk was so interesting. I met people from Pepsi and Travelers and Walgreens and United and lots of others, listened to them talk about their issues.

I met an Oracle engineer who works on ensuring that Perl and PHP and Python and Ruby hook up to the 11g database; he seems to be doing a good job, but I suspect there’ll need to be more of him, going forward.

I met any number of people who are interested in Cloud stuff. I had a REST-vs.-SOAP argument. The future of Java was kicked around. Yes, there are technologists in the crowd, if you work at finding them.

It’s going to take me some time to soak up all this input.



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From: JulesLt (Oct 14 2009, at 07:47)

A thought : alien as this type of conference may be, it perhaps says a lot that Sun didn't conduct something similar for the products they sold.

(More of an observation than a criticism - I know which type of firm I'd prefer to work in - but the business side is a necessary evil)

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From: Eduardo Pelegri-Llopart (Oct 14 2009, at 21:14)

One of the key messages of Dell's prezo was: x86 is the open standard architecture, use it, not proprietary architectures (not spoken: "not SPARC"). Which is always funny because x86 is proprietary, and SPARC is actually open.

Another one was newer versions of (DELL) products use less power, and power is the biggest contributor to your cost. So, you save $$s by upgrading to the latest products. And then you can use the saved money to keep upgrading.

It was a good pitch...

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From: JulesLt (Oct 16 2009, at 01:24)

The whole x86 thing strikes me as slightly depressing - much like Windows, we're all paying for a level of backward compatibility that could - in most cases - be satisfied through emulation and VMs.

(There are obviously a handful of genuinely x86 optimised applications out there)

I'm impressed with how much progress they've made in the last few years (in reducing power/heat demand, etc) but it's still clear - when you compare ARM and Atom, or Xeon and Sparc, how much it is progress relative to the standard they have set.

Which is a digression - but Dell are a great example of how chasing the bottom dollar will lead to stagnation in IT, because most of their innovation is focused on supply chain management.

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