There was a lot of business in the Consumer Electronics Show this last week. I mentioned the Panasonic announcement earlier, in which they showcased why current tablets from companies like Apple aren’t really designed for business. But two others may be even more disruptive once they mature: a hosted PC platform that can scale to high performance and a new PC design called Table Top PCs that could, and likely should, replace PowerPoint as the way to share information at meetings. Finally, Dell announced what may be the most disruptive client technology, its cloud client, and it might actually have some synergy with the NVIDIA’s server. Let me explain.
NVIDIA GeForce Grid Server
I often look back longingly, as I imagine most of you do, to the days of the mainframe, when the client technology was simple to use, simple to secure, and simple to replace. Granted, there were a lot of things to dislike about those old mainframes, particularly from a user standpoint, but a simple client wasn’t one of them. We tried to go back in that direction with thin clients, rack mounted and then blade PCs, but all of those efforts were driven largely by PC companies, which made them expensive to implement. And there just wasn’t enough performance in thin clients for anything but data entry.
A lot of this had to do with who was bringing forward the products. They weren’t technology vendors, they were device vendors, and that meant the necessary standards to create a true market just weren’t there. Well, this may have changed with the GeForce Grid Server because this was created by NVIDIA, a technology vendor in Intel’s segment, which focuses on fixing this problem. While initially this server is targeting cloud gaming, the performance requirement for gaming is in line with mid-level engineering workstations, and NVIDIA remains the leading graphics technology supplier for that class. And that means servers are coming using this technology that could finally give you the ability to scale performance on tablet devices and a new class of clients. More on this last later.
Lenovo, of the PC vendors at CES, arguably had the most powerful presence. This was largely due to its 27” Table PC, a portable All-In-One that can lie flat on a table and be used as a collaboration presentation tool. This could finally replace PowerPoint, which many have argued has been destroying communications in companies. Perhaps the most definitive work on the latter is Edward R. Tufte’s “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within,” which argues that this approach to presenting destroys verbal and special reasoning, corrupting analysis and leading to bad decisions. Microsoft’s lack of progress over the last decade may actually be tied to the use of this product, as could be the slowdown in western commercial progress over the same period.
A Table PC allows people to work together on a concept, more easily share and argue ideas, and change the pitching process that Tufte argues against to one that could make your company, and western civilization in general, more successful. Granted, because we tend to fight change, I’d expect folks to try and put PowerPoint on this display but eventually it could, and should, result in far smarter companies.
However, in this class, bigger is better, and 3M showcased an even more impressive conference room table using the technology.
Dell Cloud Client: Project Ophelia
I mentioned in the NVIDIA segment that one of the things needed to complete the vision of a high-powered, hosted PC-like replacement for the good parts of the mainframe experience was a new class of client.
Now this announcement actually showcased two things. One was Dell’s acquisition process, because this product was not delayed to market by the merger. Compare this to HP’s acquisition of Palm, that delayed the horridly named Palm TouchPad so much that it killed the product and the company. Dell does acquisitions better than anyone else in the industry, with the possible exception of EMC, and it amazes me they aren’t being emulated more aggressively here.
Project Ophelia is a small key fob-sized HDMI client that can be powered off of the newest HDMI ports and provides a rich Android-based client experience. Wrapped with management software and the capability of running the full suite of Android apps at high resolutions, it could be the perfect fixed client for the NVIDIA GeForce server for employees working on the road or from home that need a bigger screen than that of a laptop or tablet. Supporting touch, it could even create a vastly less expensive Table Top PC experience simply by removing the PC technology from the display and allowing it to be advanced at cell phone speeds without prematurely obsolescing the table.
This should be the future of thin clients and what could eventually replace technology in TVs, at the desk, on projectors, and even on the Table.
Wrapping Up: The Power of Three
What I’m hoping you got at the end of this is that it wasn’t any one of these technologies that is the most powerful but what could happen if all three were combined into a solution. With the graphics and compute power centralized and scalable performance moving to where you need it while remaining far more secure physically, with the Table Top PC, that technology transforms how group decisions are made. And with the cloud client changing, technology can advance at the speed and cost of a cellphone at the user level, allowing the firm and the employee to gain access to new capabilities at full industry speed. That solution, with NVIDIA GeForce Servers, and Table PCs backed by cloud clients doesn’t exist yet, but when it does, positive disruptive change will likely be an understatement.