Two facets of IT

SAN FRANCISCO (10/17/2003) - To people outside information technology, this profession can seem cold and daunting. Modern IT systems are so complex that they skirt the unexplored frontier of humankind's ability to solve complex problems. Anyone who seeks that challenge, critics reason, must be obsessed with machines. That's why derogatory terms for IT professionals -- geek, nerd, and so forth -- usually imply someone who is smart about things but dumb about people.

Well, it just isn't so. IT requires a delicate balance between technical sophistication and old-fashioned common sense. This issue of InfoWorld offers excellent examples of both.

On the technical side, check out the InfoWorld Test Center's thorough, and often critical, investigation of the 64-bit editions of Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000.

Our reviewers, Randall C. Kennedy, director of research at Competitive Analysis Systems, and Sean McCown, senior corporate DBA at SourceCorp, found much to like in the two Microsoft products, which are designed to run on Intel's Itanium 2 processor. They also found significant features lacking.

For example, there's still no 64-bit version of the .Net Framework. That's not a fatal flaw: The new products still perform better than their older 32-bit versions on many chores, and Microsoft promises the 64-bit .Net will be ready by the second half of 2004; beta is due in the spring. But it does limit the products' usefulness for Web-based applications.

Our experts found other discrepancies that made them reluctant to recommend an immediate upgrade, but before you accuse them of Microsoft-bashing, Kennedy and McCown also saw evidence of the platform's potential. In Active Directory benchmarks, for example, the 64-bit Windows Server 2003 chewed through address lookups as much as 10 times faster than its 32-bit counterpart. That's power.

If our 64-bit cover package represents the technical side of IT, then Chad Dickerson's column epitomizes the essential human element.

Dickerson, our CTO and head of the Test Center, neatly analyzes the biggest challenge IT faces in implementing a new system -- that of user complaints. Whereas some gripes are warranted, Dickerson observes others are driven by opposition to technological change.

He notes that when the new system arrives, the noisiest proponents of going back to the old system are usually those who complained most loudly when it was still around.

The solution, Dickerson suggests, is a mixture of compassion and hard-headedness, the technologist's equivalent of a doctor's bedside manner. That's talent as critical as technical skill to IT success.

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