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The Next Chapter: The Future of Hardware

Predictions: The future of IT includes throwaway PCs, servers in a closet, 'touchless' data centers and - surprise! - more mainframes.

By Mitch Betts
November 18, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Throwaway Machines
Welcome to the age of the disposable PC. What with Wal-Mart today selling a personal computer for $199, it is too expensive to dispatch a repair person to fix a machine and too expensive to ship it back and forth from a repair depot. Within five years, a hardware failure will mean that the user will throw away the machine, unbox a new one, plug it into the network and then watch as his data, preferences and applications are "reincarnated" into the new machine from a central service.

--Sheldon Laube, chairman, CenterBeam Inc., Santa Clara, Calif.

Touchless Data Centers
We're heading toward the death of the centralized, monolithic data center as we have come to know it. The density of blade servers, combined with better management software, will allow people to deploy computing infrastructure the same way they deploy telephone equipment - in closets within office space. With blades, it will be possible to put hundreds of servers in a fraction of the space used today. And remote management software will eliminate the need for the vast majority of administrators to touch the hardware, leading to the "touchless" data center.

--Pat Tickle, vice president of product management, Terraspring Inc., Fremont, Calif.

Long Live the Mainframe
Mainframes have been declared "deceased" many times in the past 10 years, but by mid-2003, mainframes will be at the center of new Web-driven technologies, such as Web services, and a focus for integrating existing applications. In terms of what companies are trying to accomplish, mainframes will become a hot technology for the first time in 20 years.

--Markus Nitschke, vice president, Attachmate Corp., Bellevue, Wash.

Strength of Itanium
Intel Corp.'s Itanium 2 processor will slowly gain acceptance and eventually provide a common platform in the enterprise - not only for Windows servers, but also for any of the Unix variants that are being ported to it, such as HP-UX and Linux. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. will be hard-pressed to keep up the pace with its 64-bit chips but will provide enough competition to Intel to keep them on edge.

--Kendall Hunt, manager of infrastructure support, Tallan Inc., Glastonbury, Conn.

OLED Displays
Organic LED displays - made of light-emitting organic material that glows when an electrical charge is passed through it - are thinner, brighter and less expensive than current LCD displays. And they bend! This technology could literally change the size and shape of computers in the future. It's very intriguing technology, but commercial products are still five to six years away.

--Brian Connors, chief technology officer, IBM's PC division

Grid, Schmid
Grid computing is getting lots of attention, but widespread grid computing is probably some years further out than currently projected for general business purposes. Grid computing addresses CPU-intensive problems, but it doesn't address the major bottleneck in corporate IT: data management, in other words, the amount of data that can be collected, acted on and communicated to those who need the data.

--Steve Sanazaro, partner, Tatum CIO Partners LLP, Dallas office

No Moving Parts?
In 10 years, PCs will have no floppies, no CD-ROMs, no DVD players and no moving parts. They'll be just a bunch of flash memory and display. You'll have servers at a centralized data center that act as master docking stations for all data at your home and office.

--Scott Testa, chief operating officer, Mindbridge Inc., Norristown, Pa.

The Invisible Box
By 2005, the box will become invisible as hardware becomes a commodity - not just in computing, but also in storage and networking. The question will be less about which vendors win the war and more about whether the customer will really care. With standardized boxes that interoperate, low price will be table stakes and service will win.

--John Peters and Vivek Kapur, consultants, IBM Business Consulting Services, San Francisco

Back to the Future
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the vast majority of the world's most valuable business information and intellectual property still resides on mainframe computers - not on servers. This trend will continue and even grow as mainframe technology continues to improve and businesses continue to move toward centralization, server consolidation and storage consolidation. By 2005, you'll see a significant shift from small servers to traditional mainframes.

--Gilbert Houtekamer, chief technology officer, Consul Risk Management Inc., Acton, Mass.

Blades, R.I.P.
Within three years, you'll see the end of the server blade. Instead, even more modular systems will arise that allow for CPU or memory upgrades that meet the computing needs of specific applications.

--Throop Wilder, co-founder and vice president, Crossbeam Systems Inc., Concord, Mass.

Read more about Hardware in Computerworld's Hardware Topic Center.

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