Trendlines from 5/15/08: New, Hot, Unexpected

In this issue: Sesame Street and Open Souce; More demand for wireless; Xerox goes green; ROI vs. TCO; Starbucks seeks feedback; Hacking the election; BPM obstacles; and Unified Communication by the numbers.

Open (Source) Sesame

Noah Broadwater, VP of information services for Sesame Workshop, likes open-source virtualization tools for several good reasons—starting with green ones that have nothing to do with Oscar the Grouch.

Broadwater recently faced a budget crunch at the same time he needed new Web servers and more room in his data center. His solution: new HP blade servers based on Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise server software, which builds in virtualization software from Xen, a leading open-source alternative to VMware's offering.

"We said, Let's try it," says Broadwater. "It saved us from buying new servers." Happy with the results, Broadwater planned a substantial virtualization project to make over his other servers, starting with his test and development boxes, beginning about one year ago.

Sesame Workshop spent approximately $250,000 every three years on hardware and support for its Sun Solaris servers, Broadwater says. The new approach combined 25 virtual machines onto four physical servers within a blade center and reduced that cost to $24,000 every three years, he says. His team also consolidated 10 servers, including application, image and log servers onto four physical boxes. When the project is done, the company will reclaim two racks of space in its data center and reduce power consumption by 15 percent, Broadwater estimates.

Broadwater's desire to save via virtualization is not unique, but his choice of vendor is. Today, the majority of enterprise shops use VMware's tools.

Do many enterprise leaders even think Novell when they're considering virtualization options? "On the technology side, Novell has made significant headway; however I think they need to up their marketing efforts to further build brand recognition for their virtualization offerings," says Burton Group Research Analyst Chris Wolf. VMware has also built a more extensive lineup of partners, Wolf says.

So why didn't Broadwater use VMware? "Cost," he says. "VMware has a great solution, it's just very expensive. Second, we're a firm believer in and use a lot of open source. We actually work on open source projects and give code back." Broadwater has long used open-source tools such as the Apache Web server software.

As for why he went with Novell SUSE Linux: "We've had Novell in the data center a long time," he says. "With Novell, I knew what my support was, I knew how to work that system."

Broadwater says the plan is to be off Solaris within three years, moving over as much as possible on servers to Linux. By June 2009, Sesame Workshop plans to virtualize its 10 noncritical, low utilization servers, some of which are running Microsoft Windows Server 2003. Some of these are one-application, one-server relics. Thanks to virtualization, such servers will soon be in the past for Sesame Workshop.

-Laurianne McLaughlin

Demand for Mobile/Wireless Skills Rising

A new survey of 3,578 IT managers suggests that proficiency in mobile technology for wireless and radio frequency (RF) will grow in importance over the next five years to become the most valuable IT skill.

Currently topping the list are security (74 percent), general networking (66 percent), and operating systems (66 percent), according to the survey by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). The survey base was composed of at least 250 IT managers from around the world.

But the survey also found that mobile and wireless skills are expected to show the highest growth in demand. The survey didn't specify what was meant by "wireless and RF frequency technology" skills. However, CompTIA spokesman Steven Ostrowski says the phrase includes all the ways companies use wireless, such as smartphones and handhelds, Wi-Fi networking and RFID implementations.

Those most likely to predict that wireless will be the most important skill in five years were IT managers in the healthcare industry (63 percent), followed by those in the education space (63 percent). Auto/manufacturing- sector IT managers were less likely to predict such strong growth in the importance of these skills.

Other skills expected to grow in importance over the coming five years include Web-based technologies, like Web 2.0, SOA, SaaS and Ajax, as well as Java and non-Microsoft programming languages, according to the survey. It also indicated that participants support sending tech staffers to external, professional training classes (42 percent) and offering rewards for those who enhance their skill sets (41 percent).

-Al Sacco

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