Managing on the edge of change

Technology chiefs personify the best -- and sometimes the worst -- attributes of people who choose to make their living building and deploying new technology.

Technology chiefs personify the best -- and sometimes the worst -- attributes of people who choose to make their living building and deploying new technology.

CTOs like to live on the edge. They tend to have a high degree of confidence in their own innate abilities to get something new done no matter how big the associated technical and political challenges are.

Of course, it's that same attribute that tends to get many of them in trouble when emerging technology does not mature fast enough to turn their visions into some form of tangible reality.

What's interesting about today's IT environment is the IT project that a CTO is trying to implement is usually a solo effort. Rarely is another organisation working on a similar project at the same time, and even rarer still are the times CTOs get to share ideas with like-minded people facing similar challenges.

One of those rare moments, however, is upon us. For the last several years the IT community has watched the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) environment mature into a stable platform, and now Microsoft is racing to build a similar environment around its .Net architecture.

For the past 20 years creating distributed apps that could scale using low-cost hardware platforms based on Intel and Sparc platforms has been more of a dream than a reality. The fly in the ointment has always been the costs associated with managing distributed apps across the network and the physical labour associated with deploying, maintaining and upgrading those applications.

But as J2EE and .Net become richer environments, we finally have the frameworks needed to weave web servers, application servers and database servers into a highly scalable architecture capable of supporting software as a service. This means that rather than shipping CDs around your organisation to load and update software, IT organisations can build centralised services. And now, as an industry we are on the cusp of providing ways to federate these services so that two or more services can be combined to create a composite service that is greater than the sum of its parts. This latter capability is really the core challenge that CTOs adopting web services technologies are trying to rise to even before all the standards around those technologies are fully baked.

We'll be exploring this and other key emerging technologies such as grid computing, extreme programming, web services and wireless networks at InfoWorld's CTO Forum conference in San Francisco on April 8 through April 10. Speakers at this event will include Norman Lorentz, newly appointed CTO of the US federal government; Ameet Patel, CTO of the LabMorgan unit of JP Morgan Chase; and Curtis Robb, CTO of the Delta Technologies unit of Delta Air Lines. Other notable speakers will be John Seely Brown, chief scientist at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Centre); Patrick Gelsinger, CTO of Intel; Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of technology strategy at IBM; and Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.

What all these people intrinsically understand is that although emerging technologies are always risky, faint heart never won fair advantage.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld US. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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