MANILA, January 12, 2005 (STAR) By Alma Buelva  -  In 2005, information technology will become more about information than technology. The concept of pooling hardware and software resources will gain greater hold this year so people and companies can contain and access more information in and from only one system, effectively and affordably.

As the amount of information generated globally gets bigger, the physical size of the IT receptacles that will hold them gets smaller. In fact, two of the hottest technologies now Ė smart cards and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Ė can be as small as a one-half-inch post stamp or a grain of rice that nevertheless can pack considerable amount of data.

With IT becoming more fine-tuned to truly serve the interests of individuals and businesses, CEOs of top high-tech companies and industry pundits believe the IT industry is headed for an upturn this year. They are bullish about the next 10 years, beginning this 2005 when, they say, IT will become more rational.

"No more (Internet) bubble mania in the next 10 years, but rational ROI (return on investment) so Iím more excited in the next 10 years than Iíve been for a long time," said Scott McNealy, chairman and CEO of Sun Microsystems Inc.

The 50-year-old McNealy sees the IT landscape changing very significantly over the next decade due to price compressions and how devices are being connected and data centers being managed to scale. During this time, he is confident more companies will adopt the so-called utility computing service model that pegs a dollar value per CPU that a company avails itself from a managed service provider.

No boundaries

Every IT userís wish is to have access to information without being limited by technology, geography and time. On this note, Carly Fiorina, chairman and CEO of HP, said customers, not the technology companies, will dictate from now on what kind of information and services they want and how they want them.

"We lived through during the 20 years involving the Net (birth) and bust, among many other things. All those were warm-up acts. Now weíre entering the main event where technology will truly transform life, businesses and governments. Every process is being transformed Ė from analog and physical to digital, mobile and personal," said Fiorina.

For Fiorina, technology must provide a "personal context" which is the ability of users to control the services and information they get when and where and what device they get it from. She said Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software offers this attribute to enterprises, while digital entertainment extends personalization to consumers. RFID comes to her mind, too, as one of the new technologies with personal context and one that will have a huge impact in digitizing the supply chain.

"RFID will transform business processes while making companies more visible. RFID plus sensor technology will provide information in every stage of the supply chain... These transformations are happening in every industry. The issue is no longer where the information lives but putting information to work and transform it from passive to active to insight," Fiorina said.

RFID tags come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Animal tracking tags, inserted beneath the skin, can be as small as a pencil lead in diameter. The anti-theft hard plastic tags attached to merchandise in stores are RFID tags. Now that itís 2005, top suppliers to Wal-Mart and the US government must incorporate RFID tags in all their pallet shipments. But even in other parts of the world, RFID adoption is becoming the norm in doing business.

Then thereís the intelligent chip or smart card. Smart cards are dominantly found in mobile phones today, but theyíre becoming embed-ded in many other objects such as credit cards and RFID stickers. A SIM is a smart card. The global market for smart card is poised to be tremendous: there was one smart card for 100 inhabitants in 1991, there is now one for six inhabitants. Aside from wireless communications and credit cards, intelligent chips are also being used for electronic cash, computer security systems and loyalty card programs.

Because they can be really tiny, smart cards offer users freedom to take their information with them anywhere. "Use smart card for your office machine and beam data to your home machine. Itís perfect for a hoteling environment where you take only your laptop, a Java card and a wireless phone to roam," said McNealy.

Inside the grid

Still along the theme that IT this year will be more about information than technology, Michael Dell, chairman of Dell Inc., sees an industry momentum resulting in more scaled IT infrastructure in enterprises.

"We call it scalable enterprise, Oracle Corp. calls it Ďgrid computing,í" remarked the self-made billionaire Dell.

Jeff Clarke, product group vice president at Dell, said as machines become powerful, the notion of big iron becomes less and less sensible. By using industry standards and best practices, companies now have the choice to cluster more affordable yet more powerful small machines and storage devices to run larger database systems and replace mainframes and other financially debilitating computers.

"The best partnerships in the industry give user value. There is tremendous synchronicity of visions among leaders such as Dell, Oracle, Intel, Microsoft and EMC to help customers build enterprises using high-end servers matching the grid vision of Larry Ellison (Oracle chairman), so companies can scale to almost any size," stressed Dell, adding that "grid is the way of the future."

Software for free

One thing that has been happening yet people donít seem to realize is that software, at least from most Internet companies, is now totally free. Best of all, this phenomenon is not stopping this year.

"Software is now free," boomed McNealy. Google and eBay donít let you buy their software so you can use their websites. They give it to you for free! The model today is you donít want to buy software but just use it."

Of course, any discussion about free software seems to naturally lead to open source. McNealy believes the open source community worldwide will continue to grow in 2005 to give IT managers and users more choices.

Dell, Fiorina and McNealy were all keynote speakers during the Oracle Open World technology conference in San Francisco, California last month.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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