Monday, January 15, 2007

Consumer Electronics Show (CES)

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), once a bastion of electronic toys, now also serves as a herald for the future of the tech industry, in general, including -- some argue -- enterprise technology.

Certainly the appearance of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Cisco’s John Chambers makes CES look a lot more like the technology megashows of yore (COMDEX, anyone?). And Gates’ vision of a “connected world,” articulated during his keynote at CES, extends well beyond the family room.

“You can’t even say ‘consumer’ because the experiences span into that business environment,” Gates said, as he described an environment in which people want to do things across multiple devices with many other people.

From giant Intel’s quad-core processor announcement, to startup Sling Media’s “place-shifting” system to bring video to Vista, Palm, and notebooks, the technology innovation driving all of it is the coming of a single IP pipe that carries all data.

Most experts agree that the idea of a single IP pipe is being driven by consumers who could care less how their voice, video, and data is delivered, as long as it is simple to use and accessible everywhere. Consumer electronic companies, as well as traditional software and hardware firms such as Apple and Microsoft, see the shift as a giant opportunity to become the managers of this central server hub for the home media center. And what users enjoy at home as consumers will be demanded by employees when they get to the office. That path from the home to the office has been followed before, from the desktop computer to handhelds and cell phones.

In the short term, companies will begin replacing the multiple data lines and trunks feeding large enterprises with a single source of data, such as fiber optic connections, that meet all of the company’s needs. That will take the burden of managing multiple data infrastructures off IT, and turn complicated calculations such as QoS into a simple measure of how much bandwidth is being used by SIP.

Just as broadband access has made video sharing a fad, the clearest ramification of the single pipe for the enterprise, according to Mike Hudack, CEO of, a startup distributor of user-created serialized video content, will be the wealth of additional applications that can be run on top of the network instead of special purpose pipes.

That was the subtext of Cisco CEO John Chambers’ keynote speech, set in a mock-up living room, which showed how music, video, and even home surveillance cameras could share data and interoperate over the same intelligent, in-home network. That’s a vision that tracks closely to Cisco’s enterprise model of unified voice, video, and IP communications.

“You can start delivering application services the way you deliver television,” Hudack said. “If the overall connection is good the network is good.”

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