Regardless of the success of smaller clients, bigger servers and everything in-between, one company is sure to call 1998 its own: Intel. Ironically, it is through new partnerships that the company will be able to emerge from the shadow of its most familiar partner Microsoft.
Of course, Intel has had a leading role in the personal computer industry since the early 1980s when IBM based its PC on Intel's 8088 chip. But it has been overshadowed by Microsoft - the up-to-now more-visible partner of the Wintel platform. Like most engineers, the company itself has had a relatively quiet, softly-spoken demeanour.
All that is changing this year. Intel will step out and lead with or without Microsoft's blessing. In the business computing area, Intel is also frustrated that NT 5.0 won't address the high-end server market in 1998; some IT managers argue NT may never do so. To ensure demand for its chips (and fabrication facilities), Intel has entered into key relationships with Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and most recently, Digital - all one-time rivals for the high-end chip market. The company has even expanded its custom integration group to better support four-way (and soon eight-way) clusters.
Starting with the Pentium II and the release of the hybrid 64-bit Merced chip, the goal is to have Intel chips of various flavours inside those high-end Web sites, data marts and thin clients. We could see the server market rally around the Merced chip in the same way the industry rallied around the 80386 - regardless of OS.
But processors are just part of Intel's lineup. The network management group recently expanded the corporate reach for LANDesk with increased partnerships. The company's silicon group is bringing this critical management component onto motherboards. As we focus on reducing our computing costs, Intel will ensure LANDesk is the core to that mission. This platform will naturally expand to sub-PC platforms. Intel is also looking beyond traditional computers and traditional partners. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in the US, the company demonstrated its Connected Car PC technology in a Ford Expedition, which supports - but does not require - Windows CE.
The company took a similar nondenominational approach to integrating TV with data when it demonstrated its Intercast technology. Yet, for both Intercast and the Connected Car, Intel has been - and will likely continue to be - very active in enlisting key non-computing partners for these new computing platforms.
Where did it go wrong?
As I see it, the one market Intel has under-served is the sub-$US1000 category. Cyrix and Advanced Micro Devices are selling key Intel customers less expensive processors and will continue to do so until Intel gets its thin-client processor solutions to market. Rumours abound about this, and Intel officials say the company has plans for such a strategy, but actions are needed.
To keep its corporate fingers in even more technology pies, Intel has invested more than $US500 million in literally hundreds of companies - most of which are not publicly known. With interests in flat-panel displays to Internet gizmos, Intel is using its money to monitor the technology horizon.
So as 1998 unfolds into lighter clients, heavier servers, multiple OS solutions and expanded computing offerings, IT managers will find Intel at every turn.
Don't patch apps for 2000, redesign your systemsAs a reader of ARN, you'd have to be a hermit to not know that the year 2000 poses a challenge to your computer systems. The question is whether you are using the remaining two years to adapt to the date change and prepare systems for the future - or are figuring that, like the Spice Girls, this fad will lose its charm.
I've spoken with IT executives who are waiting to tackle the 2000 issue. The most common reason, they say, is that their budgets were slashed, and this non-revenue-producing task was eliminated. Then, they go on to figure they have two years left before things start going haywire. If that is your course, check the reality. The 2000 problem will not only hit us immediately following 11:59 pm on December 31, 1999, but will nag us before and long after that date.
Maybe your company doesn't produce smart-card-based applications. Now is the time to plan how your company will capitalize on this opportunity. Although many of the big systems are being addressed for the millennium, too many small systems are being treated to quick-fix patches. But slamming in a date-updated solution won't begin to let you reach the full potential of your systems.
The challenge today with PC and network-based systems is in applications that use forward-looking information. Expiration dates are easy. What about problems with scheduled maintenance or financial projections? What about personnel-related applications, such as vesting programs and benefits packages? I have seen these issues occur.
We need to tackle these changes head on, instead of just grumbling about the cost and lack of return.
Instead of feeling safe that there are two years left, get aggressive and take advantage of this rare business opportunity.