Demo stuff for IT organizations

Note: Video presentations of the products mentioned below, as well as most other presentations from Demo, are available here. Blogger won’t accept the embedded videos and I don’t have time to mess with it.

As an event that brims with streaming video and eye-catching GUIs, Demo has never been the ideal venue for IT infrastructure companies. Startups that make servers perform better, for example, or that improve bandwidth utilization have an impossible task matching the slickness of their consumer-oriented neighbors.

Nevertheless, I saw some noteworthy innovations at Demo that should interest corporate computing departments.

Fusion-io – For sheer “Wow!” factor, Fusion-io’s ioMemory and ioDrive were hard to beat. The company claims to have squeezed the capacity and power of a storage area network onto a single PCI-Express card. The product it plans to release at the end of this year packs 640GB of non-volatile storage into a card that fits in the palm of your hand. It uses the same memory technology that’s embedded in Apple’s iPod Nano. Some people believe that breed of flash memory will eventually replace disk drives altogether.

The performance claims by this company are astounding. Fusion-io says it can improve storage performance by up to 100 times with better reliability because the product has no moving parts. At an estimated cost of around $20,000, the product will no doubt be the most costly expansion card ever produced, but Fusion-io says it will be far cheaper than the storage area networks it replaces.

CEO Rick White says a fully loaded SAN costs about $80 per gigabyte, while his product will come in at about $30 per gigabyte. That’s because there is no need for the racks, power supplies, controllers, air conditioning supply and floor space that conventional SANs need. Multiple cards can be placed in the same box and RAID-style striping can be employed for data integrity and redundancy.

The show guide said Fusion-io’s products “may prove to be among the most important products ever to launch a Demo.” If the company’s claims are true, that’s probably not an overstatement.

Solid ICE – This on-demand virtual environment from Qumranet combines the best features of virtualization and thin-client terminal services. Users can have multiple virtual machines running on their desktop, all hosted and served from the data center. IT organizations can fluidly scale of the power and resources provided to each user, and desktops can be customized and saved for access from any location. Users can even install software into their virtual machines, as if they were local computers.

Talari Networks – One of the few areas of IT infrastructure that has yet to succumb to Moore‘s Law is wide area network services. Enterprises continue to lease frame relay, multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) and other pricey dedicated network services from carriers because they’re afraid to take chances on the public Internet.

Talari claims to have come up with a way to adapt routing patterns to variations in the network and achieve frame relay-like reliability at a fraction of the cost. It layers in some secure data delivery and packet engineering to achieve reliability of more than 99.95%. Talari says is can deliver between 30 and 100 times the bandwidth per dollar and eliminate the need for frame relay or MPLS services in many cases.

The company’s web site is still two pages deep, so it may be awhile before its claims can be verified.

Can Cheap Storage Spur Innovation? You Bet It Can

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

Today’s Web 2.0 companies are the fastest-growing part of the Internet economy, where cheap storage is one of its essential technology drivers.

Disk storage – that most prosaic commodity of computerdom – is giving birth to a whole new breed of innovative businesses on the Web. It can be a springboard for innovation in your company, too.

Most people don’t pay much attention to the disk drives in their computers or servers. Perhaps we’ve noticed that they’ve gotten a good deal cheaper in recent years, but storage is not the kind of thing that gets people excited. However, data storage has been one of the most exciting areas of innovation in computing for the last decade. The remarkable declines in storage prices – I figure them to be about 40 percent per year since the invention of the rigid disk drive in 1957 – have made what was once a precious resource into a cheap commodity.

Consider this: IBM figured that the amount of storage in a standard PC hard drive circa 2003 would have taken up more than a square mile of disk drives in 1957. And the prices have come down 90% since then. This is, quite simply, the most remarkable price deflation in the history of the world.

So what happens when a resource that used to be expensive becomes essentially free? A lot of innovative business ideas spring up. Consider YouTube, the video-sharing web site that recently sold to Google for $1.65 billion. YouTube and services like it enable people to store videos at no charge. Other free sites like Flickr, Blogger, and eSnips use a similar business model to let members publish and share their words and images. It would have been unthinkable just a few years ago for these businesses to survive. But today, the so-called Web 2.0 companies are the fastest-growing part of the Internet economy. And cheap storage is one of the essential technology drivers.

That’s just the beginning of the innovative potential. Marketers are learning to take advantage of viral marketing, in which information about products and companies is spread by people sharing links to interesting content. Many companies are now encouraging their customers to actually create multimedia ads for them and upload their masterpieces to a server. Check out The Nerd League and BoltBand for a couple of examples.

There are many other opportunities for businesses to innovate around the promise of inexpensive storage. You may already be posting manuals and documentation for your customers to download. Why not add video how-to courses? Start a contest and ask customers to upload photos of themselves using your products in innovative ways. Post video interviews with some interesting people who design your products or run the company, as Microsoft and General Motors have done. Or, for internal use, take on that big data warehousing project you weren’t previously able to afford.

Ideas like these will only proliferate as the cost of computing continues to fall. I call it the “technology leverage effect.” Small changes in technology can have a ripple effect that leads to massive changes in business and in our lives years down the road.