The Bloor Perspective: Touchy-feely PCs, HP and, like, storage man, and Citrix's big idea

In their latest look at recent key ebusiness-related developments, Robin Bloor and his colleagues comment on richer PC relationships, HP and storage management, and Citrix's vision...

In their latest look at recent key ebusiness-related developments, Robin Bloor and his colleagues comment on richer PC relationships, HP and storage management, and Citrix's vision...

Establishing the correct relationship with your PC is the kind of subject that emerges in the summer silly season. Fed up with pounding the keyboard with your fingers? Would you prefer to stroke the screen, while murmuring sweet nothings to your desktop friend? Well, you could soon be able to, if you want. The old touch-screen technology has been undergoing some radical development. The new word for a richer touching relationship with your PC is 'haptics', which the MIT Technology Review proposed earlier this year as one of 10 emerging technologies set to have a profound impact in the future. The technology senses degrees of pressure and can produce sophisticated vibration effects as an on-screen response. It has serious (and current) application in simulations in medical schools but an ecommerce application suggested is that you would be able to 'feel' products displayed. The idea is that products that people currently won't buy online, such as fresh produce and fabrics, could be saleable that way if people could feel them. If you want to know whether the on-screen melon is ripe, give it a prod. If you want to know whether the suit displayed is made of tough enough material to last a few months of office rounds, run your fingers over it. Enabling medical students to experience for themselves the results of their probing, before they try them on you, is one to which most people would heartily subscribe. But the fresh consumables market looks highly dubious. We already know the beautiful vegetables in the picture won't look the same when delivered. How are we going to be persuaded that the melon we fingered will be the one to arrive? Neither fruit nor suit looks like a killer application that could drive this technology. On the other hand, there is already a very large online market which really could use touch and vibration to add to what's on view. Know what I mean? Strange that none of the literature mentions it. *HP - not the same old storage* Last Monday HP announced a combination of software, hardware and service offerings designed to enable organisations to manage and optimise their network storage environments. On the hardware side HP's announcement concentrated on its Surestore 181GB small footprint disk drive that can scale from 37 to 93TB when deployed in an HP Surestore Disk Array XP512. At the same time the HP Surestore Tape Library 10/100 can scale from 3.2Tb to 10Tb and supports several tape formats. With storage hardware becoming more and more of a commodity it is storage management tools that now provide significant business benefits. HP's key storage management software tools include HP Openview Storage Accountant and HP Openview Storage Allocater. The Storage Accountant software provides storage metering functionality along with charge back and cost recovery features while the Storage Allocater software provides the ability to manage host devices and the allocation of storage pools. Together these tools create a management infrastructure that could allow storage usage to be aligned effectively with real business needs. On top of these product announcements, HP is providing storage services focused on achieving zero downtime on their Surestore products across the HPUX, Solaris, Linux and Windows operating systems. Today, storage management is a very competitive environment and HP will be battling with other giants such as IBM/Tivoli, EMC, HDS, CA and Veritas for a share of the market. In addition there are a large number of other companies very active in the sector including Storage Networks, StorageTek and Fujitsu Softek to name but three and the list is almost endless. It will be interesting to observe how the HP (and Compaq) storage story develops over the next year. One thing is for sure, storage management is here to stay and it is no longer hidden. *Citrix heads for new ground* At its Global Analyst Summit last week, Citrix set out its vision for moving itself from a one-product company. CEO Mark Templeton explained the short-term goal is to get the Citrix business from its current revenue run-rate of around $600m to being a billion dollar company. Beyond that, it has a three-year vision that will see it providing virtual workplaces and portal-related solutions. The key points of discussion do not surround the ability of Citrix to deliver the technology - much of it is already available - but there is more to be said about the uniqueness of the vision and just how competitive Citrix is going to be. The Citrix vision is based on the provision of global access to anything from any device. All of this starts with the basic connectivity that comes from MetaFrame. To extend this further, there is an XML-based middle component (currently called the XML Foundation Server) that can act as the middleware to translate documents between different clients and standards and share them amongst numerous types of application. It's where the any-to-any connectivity will come from. Once the connectivity is in place, with the ability to mix and match technologies and applications, it is a small step to be able to represent them in a portal that will personalise the content. Starting with the portal space, the competitive atmosphere is pretty intense. Everybody who has any kind of a customisable web front-end is calling it a portal. It is difficult to think that this is what Citrix is doing by placing itself into the portal market. The XML-based connectivity is where Citrix really has something to say. So far, Citrix has put forward the idea of a Virtual Workplace as its marketing message and this places it a little too close to some of the activities of Microsoft, Novell and others. The basic conclusion to draw at this time is that Citrix has its technological ideas sorted but isn't necessarily pitching it correctly. Fortunately, it already has a large customer base that it can exploit while it gets the message right.