Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Boiled Sweets, Hand-Rolled Cigars and John McCain

Guest blogger Richard Muirhead, CEO and founder of Tideway Systems reports from the SIFMA Technology Management Conference in New York where signs of a looming US recession appear to be masked by fancy cigars, the latest hand-held and software gimmicks and presidential hopefuls courting Wall Street bankers.

Apparently Wall Street technology budgets are in rude health - that is, if the array of attention-grabbing gimmicks at SIFMA today are anything to go by. Nintendo Wiis; iPod Touches; young ladies in Pink Fairy costumes; and our very own Dave Kirby will be thrilled to hear that one messaging vendor featured a dragon boat’s worth of booth attendants resplendent in tie-dye, trippy t-shirts. They stood out, but they were still not a patch on Dave’s tie-dye jumpsuit.

So such great lengths become necessary when all four floors of the exhibition are packed with vendors touting their wares and you are one of innumerable messaging vendors who appear to be one millisecond faster than one another. At that point perhaps it becomes more the battle of the brands than the technologies. Think of tennis for example; could you prove your game is better with a Head tennis racket than a Dunlop, or does it just matter which racket Federer uses?

Virtualisation was sprinkled around liberally also, from the likes of Sun, IBM, Novell and others. As long as it can resist being overshadowed or at least out-shouted by the crescendo of interest in cloud computing, which I think it shall, then I believe server virtualisation’s finest year is yet to come.

The theme of relentless demand for better infrastructures was a recurring one. Data centres are constrained by space, cooling and perhaps latency, which will have a bigger impact on the surge in new builds. Tracking friends via GPS on Helios; video calling on the new consumer friendly iPhone; computationally intensive derivatives portfolio calculations, could create the biggest strain. Have CFO’s accepted yet that the current acceleration in investment is not a blip, but the beginning of a trend?

Other noticeable themes were complex event processing and 'low-latency’; and I am not just referring to the adept networking of the regulars that make up the PR cognoscenti in the 'SIFMA set'.

So, there I was propping up the bar meeting various journalistic characters that were plucked from an Evelyn Waugh novel. That is until the bar opened and I was told that sitting there for 15 minutes without consuming alcohol was not doing my bit to support the US economy and I should move on.

But I was impressed by the number of people milling round the bar, taking it as clear evidence of frantic education and deal-making - or perhaps simply marketing budgets still bulging from the exuberant planning assumptions of 2008. Until, that is, out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a neatly turned out, silver haired gentleman, sweeping from a bank of brass-clad lifts and softly holding court to his entourage.

The presumptive candidate and some might say now in the face of Barrack Obama’s rising tide of popularity, the presumptuous President: John McCain. What was striking was the relatively small number and indeed small stature of his group. That was until 25% of the bar revelers promptly switched off their secret-service earpieces and vanished into sweltering Sixth Avenue.

Today is to culminate in the parties. The largest, hosted by SunGard, great sushi, lashings of sake, but be careful not to drop your guard. The most exclusive, hosted by the unlikely bed fellows of Intel and Sun and featuring every successful executive’s favourite indulgence: hand rolled cigars. All of this nestling under a party theme of trade-processing power undiminished by prudent and conscientious data centre efficiency. A domani.

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