Ballmer to Houston—‘innovate in the cloud’

For Microsoft CEO, the cloud is the ‘most important technology shift of our generation.’

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer visited Houston this month—speaking at both the Houston Technology Centre and at CERA Week. Ballmer opined that, to satisfy energy demand growth of around 40% by 2035, ‘We’re not going to be able to just conserve our way into our energy future. Something has got to happen, on the back of not just efficiency and conservation, but on the back of innovation, underpinned by information technology.’ Ballmer’s thesis is that consumer technology, such as instant messaging, migrates into the business environment. ‘Opportunities open up with these technologies in business and specifically, in energy.’

Current ‘powerful ideas’ include augmented reality, ‘helping people assemble and fix complex machinery,’ technology that ‘bends and folds and shapes,’ and wall-sized displays that support real time and interactive training, communication and analysis. Some of this will be available in the very near future while other components will remain unrealized for a decade or so.

What the industry really wants is to model the physical world in the virtual world, and use that modeling to guide behavior and decisions. Enter the ‘most important technology shift of our generation’ the transformation of the IT backroom by cloud computing, ‘combining the power of intelligent devices like personal computers, phones, even electric cars, with the breadth of the internet and the programmability and security that we all expect today in our own datacenters.’

Ballmer envisages ‘seas of computers (so cheap and inexpensive you throw them away) that collaborate to store massive amounts of data at low cost and high computational efficiency.’ In turn this brave new world will require a ‘reinvention of the way we think about building and distributing software.’ This will leverage social networking and cloud storage à la Picasa. Ballmer even managed to segue into the X-Box 360 Kinect controller whose gesture capture and voice control functionality could be harnessed and applied anywhere, from a classroom to an offshore platform to a conference room.

‘We think about putting this kind of technology in an oil and gas collaboration room in Houston, and having engineers in the farthest flung parts of the world be able to communicate with one another to safely investigate and manipulate, for example, a subsea reservoir model and collaborate with the offshore engineering teams with the kind of precision that is as easy with words and hand gestures but perhaps very difficult with a keyboard.’ Virtual world models can be manipulated by rotating your hand and the results used in real time to perform actions at a remote location.

Entire ecosystems of service providers will be connected virtually, working off the same data and providing secure collaboration and data integration for remote service and repair. A variety of computing devices will let you visualize and understand the data that helps you make smart, safe decisions quickly, as you manage digital oilfields, smart grids and other critical infrastructure.

Ballmer cited Baker Hughes as a poster child in the context of reservoir simulations that ‘used to take nine months to build and run.’ Now it takes less than 30 days in the Windows Azure cloud. Ballmer wound up with a brief plug for the Smart Energy Reference Architecture and a rather low key mention of similar work in the upstream. More from

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