OPINION

Technology’s New Olympic Record

These were great games, and I particularly got a kick out of the initial U.S. swimming team win, which came in the face of the French team, who said they would “smash” us.

I couldn’t help but draw a parallel from that to the Apple reaction I got from suggesting that Dell might be able to address a market need that Apple didn’t on a project that I’d helped with. But we’ve talked enough about that, and this week let’s look at some of the technologies that have helped make this Olympics unique from vendors like Cisco, AMD, Microsoft and Lenovo. I think this showcases what cooperation between China and the U.S. can accomplish.

In addition, AMD had been struggling for much of this year, and I spent last week going through a deep dive on the state of the company and its coming server workstation product. While I can’t yet go into detail about that, I’ll give you a sense of how this company is likely to perform under its new leadership.

Finally we’ll close with my product of the week, which is a washer and dryer (probably the first and last time I do this) from Samsung that I ran into while visiting the company and liked so much I wandered over to Best Buy to buy a set.

AMD, Microsoft, Cisco, Lenovo Behind the Scenes

I’m writing this while attending an AMD event that is attempting to balance the presentations that many of us are likely to get from Intel next week at Intel’s developer conference. During the presentation, officials pointed out that much of the video processing at the Olympics was being done by AMD Barcelona servers in partnership with Microsoft.

As I looked this up on the Web, it turned out that this was the most massive video effort that has ever been attempted and, so far, it appears to have gone flawlessly. Why this is interesting is because over a decade ago, IBM tried to run the U.S. Winter Olympics and it turned into a disaster, showcasing just how big a risk any vendor takes when doing this and how far the industry has come in terms of being able to do it.

But these aren’t the only U.S. companies doing interesting things at this year’s Olympics. Cisco, which has been driving its Visual Networking initiative for some time, found this event to be an excellent showcase for this initiative. Cisco’s Visual Network is what allowed NBC to move video internationally and edit it in real time. This is part of why the images we have been seeing seem to capture more key events while still allowing commercials and other breaks, and staying very close to real-time viewing during the live events. These are huge files, and the system has achieved the effective removal of latency across all 3,600 hours of broadcast coverage over the 17 days of this event.

As records fell at the Olympics, these video efforts represent the most aggressive use of video-oriented technology over the longest period across the greatest number of geographies. Every Olympics going forward will continue to beat the world record this one set.

However, most interesting is the fact that Lenovo was the vendor that was making the IT infrastructure work across the entire event. The company is made up of a blend of old IBM and traditional Lenovo employees representing a mix of U.S. and Chinese skills and resources. It’s a partnership that is able to deal with massive problem of building for a monumental event and create an infrastructure that rivals the best in the biggest worldwide enterprises, but only exists for a fraction of a year. Every Olympics, this is started from scratch. It is interesting to note that Lenovo even designed the Olympic Torch.

IBM, which at the time was the largest and most powerful technology company in the world, failed when it tried this. Lenovo, by any measure, succeeded and did so in a stunning fashion — and it did so because it is a blend of U.S. and Chinese talent. This suggests that, while we often think of competition when we think of the Olympics, that it was the actually cooperation that made this one work.

In fact, in looking across all of this, the success of this show owes more to the collaboration between providers in the U.S. and China, and less to the unique advantages that either country provides. Granted, Lenovo’s advertising for the games could have used some additional work.

Perhaps, going forward, it is that cooperation that all of these companies demonstrated that could be expanded to ensure a better future for all of us. I find that fascinating.

AMD: Getting Its Game Back

AMD has had a tough year and made some major executive changes to ensure it can execute going forward. One of the organizational changes that company officials aren’t yet talking about is Asset Light, rumored to be significant organizational change, shifting much of the company’s manufacturing capacity to partners and possibly making it more agile. Unfortunately, that is still not cooked enough to talk about, and it was the big elephant in the room for the day.

As far as execution, the focus was on Barcelona and its follow-on sibling Shanghai. These events are like locker room meetings before the big game, and you get a good sense of where the morale is but often can’t really determine execution. This time, however, the company appeared to be very proud of how Barcelona was doing in the market, and I tended to agree that much of AMD’s problem with this product — which is largely used for servers and workstations — was that it arrived much later than promised.

AMD enjoys several advantages in that the OEMs want it to succeed as a hedge against Intel, which, when it gets too powerful, has a tendency to dictate to them. In addition, these OEMs like to bid suppliers against each other, and that is hard to do when there is only one. Finally, Microsoft and Intel are like a married couple in deep trouble, in that both seem to do their best behind the scenes to piss the other off — and that helps Linux on the Intel side and AMD on the Microsoft side.

However, in both instances, it often feels like both Intel and Microsoft aren’t really willing to commit to their backup partner, creating a rather interesting market tension.

Finally, given that it is confidence and trust that currently hurt AMD, it appeared clear to me that it will be very important that Shanghai, which as you would expect is a sharp improvement on Barcelona, shows up on time. At this juncture, AMD appears positive that this will be the case. Given it is a minor change to Barcelona, the odds favor AMD this time, so hitting the dates could do a lot to restore the confidence it had lost.

I left AMD feeling more confident about the company, which has clearly been executing very well on the graphics side of late, and clearly on the path to recovery. AMD actually seems to have more than a clue about marketing for once, and that gives me hope. Depending on Shanghai and Asset Light — both of which are critical — AMD appears to be nearly back to fighting form.

Product of the Week: Samsung Washer and Dryer

I have been increasingly impressed by Samsung as the only consumer electronics company coming close to Apple-level product and marketing execution. I really don’t cover white goods (appliances), but like you I have to buy them. When I do, I tend to spend a lot of time looking at the market. We’ve been using Maytag front loaders for a long time, but the quality had clearly fallen, and it was time to get a new set. I was leaning toward the LG Steam line when I got a briefing on Samsung’s products.

We had bought a Samsung four-door refrigerator largely because it looked cool, and it turned out this new washer and dryer (we got the Platinum Edition) is better than anything else currently on the market. Also, it has much more capacity, as in I don’t have to do laundry as often. Granted, they are also more expensive, but I’m incredibly impressed with the technology they represent, and getting me impressed with a washer and dryer takes a bit.

So, because this is the first washer and dryer that actually caught my interest as even remotely cool, it cuts down on the number of times I have to do laundry, and it is very energy efficient, the set is my product of the week.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


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