What happens when a software vendor (or a hardware manufacturer) that is selling into a rather narrow vertical like oil and gas stumbles onto something that has wider application? I remember writing about this before, in my October 2000 editorial when I discussed the case of Landmark’s ‘Smart Windows’ for synchronizing of events like mouse clicks and graphics across multiple windows. The technology was so generic that it begged questions such as, ‘hasn’t somebody else solved this problem?’ or, ‘if it’s that good, why aren’t you pitching this outside of oil and gas?’
Another erstwhile developer of oil and gas technology, PrismTech managed a more successful move out of the vertical. This Shell-backed developer was successful in leveraging CORBA—in particular with the POSC business objects project that later begat Open Spirit Corp. Following a company-making deal with Inprise, PrismTech went on to serve the broader and presumably more lucrative verticals of telecommunications and defense.
I recall these bits of history because in this month’s issue, we have more examples of technology that is sold to a couple of verticals—but that ought to have wider application. In the hardware category we have the Landmark and Storewize compression technology. Rising storage costs make data compression an attractive proposition if it is as seamless as claimed. But lossless data compression is of such broad application that one wonders why it isn’t sold to disk manufacturers for their controllers.
Speaking at the well attended Panasas breakfast, Paradigm’s Phil Neri described the increasing complexity of data access pathways in a modern high performance computing environment. To a programmer seeking to optimize data access you would think that knowledge of where your data is at any given moment in time is of considerable importance. But as Neri pointed out, data may be in the L1/L2 cache of the CPU, in memory, on a local disk or out on some SAN/NAS storage—maybe even in another cache on a disk controller. So perhaps the issue of where to compress does merit a more in-depth analysis of a vertical’s requirements.
Another example of an apparently horizontal technology is ThinAnywhere—the 3D Citrix like technology that is widely used in the upstream. This, according to the press release, ‘allows 3D graphics programs running on Linux/Unix and Windows servers to be accessed with full functionality from remote PC-based workstations.’ Again, this is such a generic issue that one wonders why it needs a specific development effort for the upstream. Could it be that the deal has something to do with the fact that ThinAnywhere is pretty widely used by Schlumberger’s competitors? Or is that just a conspiracy theory?
Which brings me to what is probably another conspiracy theory—but the ding-dong between Landmark, Paradigm and Schlumberger concerning 3D topology modeling really has driven a lot of industry activity recently. From Paradigm’s acquisition of Earth Decision/GoCad, through Landmark’s abandonment of PowerModel, to its most recent purchase of GeoSmith’s Shapes—the engine inside Schlumberger’s GeoFrame! A lot of fuss for what could be a generic, horizontal issue. Is upstream 3D topology really that different from say, CAD?
I was chatting to an IBMer at the SEG who was trying to convince me that virtual reality—à la Second Life was something that was going to be really important. I scanned his face for a hint of a joke—there was none. Until then I had been surprised by the amount of hype the press has given Second Life in general. But IBM’s allegiance to the cause seemed, well, a bit potty really. I made a mental note to give it a whirl when I got back to the office.
But when I went on line and got asked for a credit card number just to have a peek I though ‘yeah sure’ and got back to the mountain of work that had meantime piled up in my first life. And then I read the newspaper. 2,000 demonstrators from 20 countries were involved in a (second) world first, a virtual strike—right in front of IBM’s Second Life ‘Business Center.’ The virtual demo was organized by IBM’s Italian trades union to protest about a salary cut. So maybe Second Life is important to IBM—but perhaps not in the way they had planned.
The October issue of the IEEE’s Computer magazine has an article about the virtual world by Mike Macedonia of Forterra Systems. The article’s strap line is ‘within decades, people could spend as least as much time in virtual worlds as in the real one.’ Macedonia’s thesis is that bandwidth and 3D graphics, and the younger generation’s predilection for Halo 3 will lead us to this scary state of affairs. The hypothesis is backed up by a quote from Gartner: ‘By 2010, 80% of global Fortune 500 companies will have some form of massive multiplayer online or virtual-world presence.’
I don’t really have time or space to unpick such poppycock—but if ‘some form of’ is to include half-assed skunk works projects, flops and bits of a corporate ‘presence’ ‘we thought we’d taken down,’ then maybe Gartner has a point. For my part I’d like to predict that sooner or later, people will actually spend less time in any form of computer interaction. This will come about because of a) class actions for RSI* and the newly classified malady of couch potato-itis, b) automation—computers will be doing more stuff on their own and c) people will get fed up of pointing and clicking and will be more interested in getting a life. Spending half your life in a virtual world will be about as exciting as spending it in your car. Unfortunately for you all, I have to confess that my predictions are usually wrong.
* Repetitive strain injury—see our report from the SEG on page 6.
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