Technology takes the prize

Platforms snap, crackle, and pop

Tried-and-true platforms are safe and comfortable places for IT to build. But platforms aren’t rocks; they’re icebergs. The place you choose to stand might remain steady and anchored for all eternity. Or you might wake up one morning to find a crack under your feet and have to make a hurried choice between staying put and risking a long jump to another berg. Maybe the ice will split and crash into the sea, taking you with it.

If you believe what you read in the papers, the field of software and hardware platforms changed little, if at all, in 2003. Clients run Windows XP, little servers run Windows or Linux, and big servers run AIX. The prevailing software platforms are Windows and Java. That shallow view of the platform space frees IT to deal with larger issues, but IT will soon have to worry about platforms again.

Relationships between companies like Sun Microsystems and Oracle, Microsoft and Intel, and Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems had allowed one vendor’s sales team to combine partner products into solutions that seemed to come from one source. More than technology or customer demand, partnerships had determined which elements linked together to make a platform. But such tight partnerships fell out of style during the recession. Makers of servers, operating systems, frameworks, and enterprise applications have broken or loosened their bonds with each other. Vendors claimed the freedom to make money anywhere they could, forging ad hoc partnerships as required to land accounts.

Another popular tactic was to reprice and repackage enterprise solutions to reach smaller businesses. Microsoft split Windows Server 2003 into functionally limited bundles, such as the Web and Standard Editions. IBM created a limited version of its e-business platform called WebSphere Express. Sun promoted its rich Java server platform — then called Orion and now sold as Java Enterprise Server — as an affordable, all-inclusive alternative to the Java licensees’ per-feature pricing.

In the short term, changes like these create new choices for customers. But in many cases, vendors are hedging their bets in ways that make platforms unpredictable. Sun’s decisions to revive Solaris x86 and to build servers around AMD’s Opteron are insurance against the potential decline of Sparc. But it’s expensive to evolve and support multiple architectures. So if one doesn’t sell, it won’t live. You can dig your heels in and refuse to leave a retired platform like Windows NT 4.0 or Solaris 2.6. But when applications go stale, and then scarce, you’ll wish you had spent your time preparing instead of protesting.

During 2003, conflicts and miscommunication among IT, vendors, and the media have created havoc in platforms. Vendors see the promise of fresh revenue, but it’s not clear how to go after it. The tendency, most evident at Sun and increasingly at Microsoft, is to try everything. This makes it harder for IT shops to place safe bets.

As sleepy as 2003 was in other ways, it was a seminal year for platforms. Apple Computer blazed its own trail by sticking with a unified hardware and software platform while competitors were expanding customers’ choices. The 64-bit Power Mac G5 and the Panther version of OS X did expand the Mac platform; however, the Mac platform remains consistently implemented across Apple’s entire product line. That’s a unique approach that harkens back to the Unix heyday, when IBM, Sun, and HP were platforms unto themselves.

By demoting .Net from a platform to a framework, Microsoft re-established Windows as a platform unto itself. The mystery of .Net gave way to the opaque muddle of the Windows Server System. The matrix of integration points and dependencies among the parts of the Windows Server System virtually forces customers to purchase enterprise software through Microsoft partners, including Itanium giant HP. That’s a huge change in the way Microsoft does business, but it brings enterprise Windows in line with competing enterprise platforms from IBM and Sun.

IBM’s profile in the chip market rose sharply with the shipment of the Power Mac G5, which is based on IBM’s 64-bit PowerPC 970 processor. This foreshadows the delivery of the Power 5 CPU, which IBM expects to shake the enterprise system market to its foundations. Customers running IBM’s minicomputers and mainframes are among the few who can be certain of platform stability. But even with fast-evolving systems based on the Power architecture, IBM is exceedingly careful to avoid marooning any customers. If you’re looking for a rock to stand on, IBM is it.

New processors in the x86 space from Transmeta, Via Technologies, and Advanced Micro Devices put fresh pressure on Intel as the CPU supplier for mainstream hardware platforms. AMD’s AMD64 architecture, the first 64-bit x86-compatible CPU and garnering a lot of attention for that fact, is particularly troublesome for Intel. For all of the x86-32 players, and for the 64-bit architectures from AMD and Intel, Windows is where it’s at.

Linux and BSD continue to rise slowly as alternatives, boosted by events such as Novell’s acquisition of SuSE and Apple’s use of BSD as the foundation of Mac OS X. Even so, hardware platform makers spend much of their time firming up their Windows compatibility.

I won’t say that’s not the half of it, but there was more platform action in 2003 than I could describe here. The coming year is set to offer customers more platform choices than they’ve ever had. The ice under our feet is splitting and shifting, and it’s anyone’s guess what it will look like when it settles again. Whether that dramatic change engenders terror, confusion, or delight depends on your organisation. IT should brace for change; no matter what, the landscape around you is going to heave and drift.

Story by Tom Yager

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Networking plumbing needs repair

Networking is the plumbing of information technology. Like conventional plumbing, most people take it for granted until a pipe bursts or a tap starts dripping. But unlike the pipes in houses and offices, networking technology is evolving at a frantic pace, even as IT investments have slowed to a trickle in the past few years.

Nonetheless, choosing the most important networking developments of the year wasn’t at all difficult. The hard part, considering advances from core switches to the network edge and everywhere in between, was keeping the list down to a reasonable number.

For example, this year saw 10GbE switches mature to the point of becoming usable, and SSL-based VPNs moved from the realm of slideware into reality. In fact, SSL VPN appliances will be the must-have networking and security acquisitions for both customers and vendors for the next couple of years.

Endpoint copper GbE picked up steam in 2003, becoming not just affordable, but getting built into enough desktops and servers that you felt wasteful for not upgrading switches and cable plants to take advantage of it.

Storage switching became a hot-button issue, as IT departments struggled to cope with maintaining ever-increasing quantities of data. Not so hot — but heating up — voice-over-IP staked a claim in the consumer market; businesses, on the other hand, remained reluctant to abandon tried-and-true PABX installations.

Wireless LANs remained an alphabet soup of technologies. Consumers flocked to 802.11g hardware, businesses stuck with the 802.11b they just bought, and vendors added manageability features to improve corporate acceptance of WLAN technology. But last year wasn’t all sunshine and roses. There’s still a lot of work to be done. First on the agenda should be fixing the Domain Name Service: it may not be the most important foundation technology of the Internet, but it’s second only to TCP/IP, and has been shown time after time to be brittle and vulnerable to denial-of-service and spoofing attacks.

Also on the to-do list is improving the security of wireless networks, although this is as much about management as technology, given the amount of insecure-by-design equipment already deployed.

And we all need to get on the road to IPv6. Although some vendors are more ready for this than others, it seems to be a case of the reluctant dragging the unwilling.

In 2004, I will bank on seeing network equipment that allows easy connection of IPv6 networks, even if they have to be linked across conventional IPv4 networks. I also expect the arrival of 40GbE hardware; the need for that speed will become apparent as enterprises deploy desktop 10GbE connections. Because Cisco Systems and Foundry Networks are already delivering hardware that’s capable of doing 40Gbps, it’s a small step to actually slinging the bits in production environments.

Wireless LAN speeds will increase while the reach of wireless Ethernet continues to expand from the local to the metropolitan. The IEEE 802.11 Working Group is developing a 100Mbps standard, dubbed 802.11n, which boosts speed through improvements at the MAC layer. Whether or not this effort will bear fruit in 2004 is a matter for speculation — but it’s clear there’s nowhere to go but up.

Story by PJ Connolly

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Security regroups and rebuilds

Perhaps it was the flood of viruses and worms distributed via spam techniques that kept catching everyone off guard.

Perhaps it was the abysmal budgets that kept development money out of the industry. Whatever the cause or combination of causes, this wasn’t a big year for security innovation or new technologies.

Last year’s status as the Year of the Worm pointed out just how little progress has been made in security technology. Although the patches necessary to defeat the worms were available long before they appeared, the attacks were successful because the technology to apply those patches on an enterprise-wide basis was lacking or limited.

For the most part, security product improvements during 2003 were incremental and evolutionary. Firewalls became more effective and faster, protecting against a greater range of attacks. Virus scanners became better at finding malicious code. Some intrusion detection and prevention products approached usefulness, and management consoles and utilities were easier to use. New security appliances demonstrated that you can sell nearly anything if you can stuff it into a 1U Linux box.

But there were a few innovations. SSL-based VPN gateways arrived as a simpler alternative to traditionally complex gateways. Although it’s not clear whether they dramatically improve security over long-standing IPSec solutions, the SSL VPNs do have the potential for better performance.

Perhaps more important are the new vulnerability assessment and remediation products that started to show up in useful form in 2003. Companies such as Qualys, Foundstone, and eEye Digital Security produced software and appliances that could scan every entity on your enterprise network, determine its vulnerability based on OS, application, patch level, security policy, and other factors, then alert the network manager to problems. Even better, these products can also fix many of the vulnerabilities they find, or at least provide instructions for remediating the problems.

Those vulnerability products can go a long way toward solving the rampant problems caused by staffing and budget shortfalls, and they can make even well-staffed and well-trained departments more effective. After all, automating those mind-numbing monitoring tasks allows your staff to tackle more interesting and productive projects.

What didn’t arrive in 2003 year but was badly needed was a means to easily and effectively apply updates to Windows and, to a lesser degree, Linux systems. The enterprise versions of Microsoft’s Windows Update are cumbersome, and unless most or all of the Windows machines in an enterprise are identical, the solutions are time-consuming.

What may start showing up commercially in 2004 (but was needed much sooner) is a means to proactively identify malicious code. The major virus scanners and OS update sites are all reactive, so worms are loose for hours before the updates appear; in the meantime, your enterprise is wide open to attack. It’s a tough nut, but it needs cracking as soon as possible.

Story by Wayne Rash

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Enterprise apps extend their reach

Trumpeting their support for XML and Web services standards, leading enterprise application vendors spoke at great length in 2003 about playing well with others. In the end, however, they proffered their own way of doing things.

IT watched as IBM’s WebSphere Integration WorkBench, Microsoft’s BizTalk, SAP AG’s NetWeaver, and Siebel Systems’ UAN (Universal Application Network) went head-to-head-to-head-to-head, as each vendor offered its own custom integration solution.

As Cap Gemini Ernst & Young CTO John Parkinson put it, “Perhaps 03 will be remembered best as the year of the rebirth of proprietary answers amidst the rhetoric of Web services making everything connect.”

Unlike traditional integration platforms, Siebel’s UAN is centred on business processes, making it, in some ways, the most interesting of the lot. Rather than being limited by domain-specific application boundaries, UAN promises to integrate even those points in a business process that require human interaction.

Application integration and BPM (business process management) aside, if there was any one key technology theme to enterprise apps in 2003, it was managing data. There is no official acronym as yet, but SAP calls it Master Data Management. The idea is to leverage key data to create master records that will let companies do a lot more with the data they already have. Among the promised benefits are higher-quality analytics and data consistency across systems, applications, and locations.

Siebel’s UAN is taking a similar approach, with the idea that within UAN resides a master customer record, separate from any single application but shared by all. You can expect the master data concept to fuel even more vendor activity in 2004. According to Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, “solutions specific to master data management will emerge as a separate application class”.

Another interesting trend is developing in the sometimes dull world of contract management. Traditionally, contract management has been treated as a mere subcategory of document management, but companies such as Determine, Edge Dynamics, Encover, and Model N are pulling contract management into the limelight, linking the terms and conditions of the contract with SLAs and putting it all into a piece of software. The result gives managers a way to watch everything that is going on in the service environment and to compare performance against the SLA.

Besides ushering in these innovations, 2003 was about recognising the value of existing technology. The dramatic focus on reducing IT costs has pushed companies to rethink how they deliver services. As a result, both offshore and hosted services have gained a foothold in the enterprise.

Hosted solutions got a boost from IBM’s marketing push for “on demand” technology, Siebel’s launch of CRM OnDemand (with partner IBM), and the continued success of Hosted apps should find still greater acceptance in the enterprise in the coming year.

Finally, a technology that may give IT more, not less, to control and manage is RFID (radio frequency ID).

With companies such as Wal-Mart Stores decreeing that all its suppliers must incorporate RFID tags on their cartons and palettes, and The Gillette Co. using RFID all the way down to the item level, the manufacturing of RFID tags is reaching a scale that will make the technology affordable to smaller companies.

For RFID to succeed, the RFID industry must standardise the device technology, and enterprise software vendors must show how RFID data can be folded into warehouse and SCM (supply-chain management) systems. We should see these developments in 2004, but we may have to wait until 2005 for the real headaches to begin. RFID is an entirely new infrastructure, and the problems associated with it are going to be hairier and scarier than dealing with the mobile devices IT staff are used to managing today.

“It’s not like upgrading software. You can’t just walk up to a server and do it. This is something you may have wired into your warehouses, trucks, loading docks, your plant, and every object that moves,” warns Ben Gaucherin, CTO of Sapient.

Regardless of what happens to RFID, master data integration, or application integration platforms, one thing is certain: The battle of the titans in enterprise apps will continue in 2004. It’s as basic as Business 101. He who owns the platform owns the core reference data, and he who owns the core reference data owns the enterprise, from content management to SCM, from ERP to CRM.

Story by Ephraim Schwartz

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Collaboration makes its presence felt

Ordinarily, I find the phrase “collaboration technology” to be almost as oxymoronic as “automotive linen”. But 2003 was a funny year. For one thing, in an odd sort of harmonic convergence, all three major integrated collaboration vendors — IBM, Microsoft, and Novell —introduced Release 6.5 of their products. For another, these releases all focused on a relatively new concept that, for lack of a better candidate, I consider “The” collaboration technology of the year.

That concept/technology/marketing hook is “presence awareness”, the idea that IM technology can be leveraged to give all sorts of applications — from e-mail and document management to CRM and other line-of-business tools — the capability of delivering and structuring content according to the whereabouts of the user and the capabilities of the user’s device-of-the-moment.

Almost as compelling as the introduction of presence awareness is the trend among the big collaboration vendors toward supporting flexible, modular environments and equipping those environments with sophisticated interfaces that perform equally well with traditional fat clients or with Web browsers. J2EE-based embeddable products, such as IBM’s Lotus Workplace, may well prove to be the ultimate in combining flexibility and adaptability.

Even Microsoft has decided that the modular approach has benefits. It’s rare to see the Redmond gang pull features out of a product, but that’s exactly what happened when Exchange 2003 lost its integrated IM to the new Live Communication Server offering.

Video chat remains a fringe ingredient on the collaboration pizza, although both Apple Computer and Microsoft attacked the problem from different angles in 2003. In acquiring PlaceWare, Microsoft finally found a reasonable substitute for the past-its-use-by-date NetMeeting and rolled out its LiveMeeting service along with the rest of the Office System last fall. Apple raised the bar for video hardware with the iSight camera, giving users a higher-quality audio/video experience; for now, unfortunately, it’s a Mac-only experience.

The biggest missing piece of the collaboration technology puzzle remains a solution to the “IM island” problem. A handful of vendors have developed so-called “IM gateways” that bridge corporate offerings with those of the ISP and portal camp. But the appeal of the consumer-grade AOL-MSN-Yahoo triumvirate is that the services are essentially free; it’s hard to justify paying for a gateway to connect a group that uses a free offering to a group that uses one of the others. Because each member of this unholy trinity sees IM as a way to maintain a captive audience, the only way to open up their networks seems to involve the business end of a judge’s gavel, which I don’t expect to hear anytime soon.

Most of the innovation I expect to see in 2004 falls into three categories: more chunks of the Lotus Workplace system and similar products, a bunch of third-party vendors trying to piggyback on Microsoft Office collaboration tools, and behind door No. 3, a brave handful of vendors trying to stay afloat by attacking niche markets such as document management, workflow, and integration with line-of-business applications. What I don’t expect to see is a solution to spam or the IM island problem, but I’m hoping for surprises.

Story by PJ Connolly

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Products we needed yesterday but still don’t have

In a perfectly networked world, the people and information you need are just a push-button away, and you never have to type anything twice — or ever worry about security or backing up. OK, we admit this may be too much to ask in 2004, but there are a number of products that would make our digital lives easier and that should exist today. But we still don’t have them.

Intrusion detection that detects intruders

To date, intrusion detection systems have been rendered useless by their inability to separate actual intrusions from the vastly greater volume of normal traffic on the networks on which they are installed. This means that network administrators must spend weeks or months weeding out normal traffic in hopes of finding an intruder who may or may not actually be there. It’s likely that the time required to make today’s solutions truly useful would exceed the time needed to remediate an actual intrusion, or the cost required to fix one.

Booting from iSCSI

It’s nice that major operating systems support iSCSI, but shouldn’t we extend that support to every system motherboard’s BIOS? If the BIOS contained code that could find a target iSCSI drive across the network and could handle IP addressing and security requirements, then IT shops could deploy diskless servers and PCs, concentrating their boot volumes on a central, easy-to-administer array.

E-mail reply bombs for spammers

OK, maybe this isn’t a real product, but after all, isn’t spam simply an extremely low-grade form of terrorism? The first spammer we meet in the flesh gets a cigarette and a blindfold, because we’re tired of wading through pitches for the Paris Hilton video, $50 online degrees, and miracle diet pills.

Lightweight identity federation

In an enterprise context, we face serious liability and high risk, so we need strong assurances. The emerging Web-services-oriented approaches to federation aim to deliver them. But we also use and provide identities for which weaker assurances might often be appropriate. If you want to read a white paper on a corporate Web site, you shouldn’t have to create an account to do it. And if you provide that whitepaper, you shouldn’t have to wrestle with SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) assertions, or deal with complex SDKs in order to enable reuse of standard kinds of credentials. Along the continuum of digital identity solutions, there’s a need and an opportunity at the low end for a lightweight, cross-platform, Web-friendly solution.

High-speed Internet everywhere

We’ve heard the promises from carriers, but we’re not sure it will ever happen. We’d be happy if providers were honest about where it is, where it’s not, and how much it really costs to use it. Hot spots are a nice sideline for retailers and airports, but they’re utterly impractical for consumers. How many minutes online should one cup of coffee entitle you to? Airport coverage diagrams are practically unreadable. You have to pay every month, but whether you can connect from this gate in that terminal is mostly the luck of the draw. And don’t get us started on hotels that offer high-speed Internet “in select rooms” but that won’t block one of these rooms for you in advance.

Bluetooth in everything

Granted, it’s not nearly as fast as 802.11, but it’s fast enough for syncing. It’s also very battery-friendly. The wired society can’t become the unwired society if we have to think about how we connect. Bluetooth can be built into devices with none of the configuration hassles of Wi-Fi or cellular.

Disposable credit card numbers to mobile phones

For several years, American Express, Discover, and MBNA Visa have offered a service that generates single-use credit card numbers for online shoppers. Each number has a dollar limit and an expiration date. Consumers use it once, then throw it away. This clever scheme plugs one of the worst security holes in the e-commerce system, which is not that a snoop might capture a card number as it travels over the wire, but rather that the destination server where the number is stored will be compromised. Disposable numbers relieve merchants and consumers of that worry.

Current single-use schemes assume the consumer is at a desktop computer, running an application to generate the number that gets plugged into the merchant’s online form. But why not use a mobile phone, from a store or restaurant, to retrieve the number? It needn’t even be a data call; voice could suffice. Of course, that would require universal and reliable mobile phone encryption, something else we needed yesterday and still don’t have.

Universal IM interoperability

This may be unrealistic, given that ISPs such as AOL and Yahoo rely on their IM services to tether customers. The next best thing would be a user-friendly method of federating identity between IM services. But it might be too much to ask for even that. In a pinch, we’d settle for a broad adoption of IM gateway services by the major providers.

Staff writers

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Storage vendors lay groundwork for expansion

Following the storage market is like watching a three-ring circus: it’s never boring, but there’s so much happening, it’s easy to miss part of the action.

Despite the slow economy, storage vendors offered an impressive number of innovative products in 2003. Improved or newly forged technologies included storage media, disk and tape drives, and controllers and arrays.

Innovations seeded in 2002, such as SATA (Serial ATA) and iSCSI, were improved in 2003, while vendors laid the groundwork for promising new technologies such as SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) and small-form-factor drives with enterprise-class performance to take off in 2004.

My pick for the most popular storage technology in 2003 goes to iSCSI, the transport protocol for encapsulated SCSI commands that enables servers to control remote disk drives via Ethernet links. Already supported by storage switch vendors such as Cisco Systems and McData, iSCSI can also count on fast-performing HBAs (host bus adapters) from trusted vendors such as Adaptec Emulex, Intel, and QLogic. Moreover, iSCSI drivers for Windows from Microsoft and IBM, as well as open source drivers for Linux systems, allow the use of generic Ethernet controllers for less-demanding applications.

In addition to fuelling low-cost SANs, the flexibility of iSCSI has inspired the creation of data-protection appliances such as the StorageTek EchoView, a relentless change-logging machine geared toward securing data on mission-critical application servers, and the Okapi Software ipXcelerator, a disk-based backup device. Especially interesting is the EchoView appliance, which allows you to revert a protected server volume to any point in time before a data corruption — much more effective than using traditional backup applications or volume snapshots.

For entry-level and mid-tier datacentres, iSCSI imparts the benefits of networked storage without the high purchasing cost and administrative overhead of Fibre Channel. Nevertheless, the expected mass migration from direct attached storage hasn’t happened yet, probably because of the uncertain economy, but perhaps also because some aspects of the iSCSI protocol such as remote boot and security are still evolving.

The SATA drive interface, descended from humble desktop and small-server ancestors, was expected to have a bigger impact on enterprise storage in 2003 than it did. Nevertheless, SATA did manage to put roots down for 2004. By delivering high capacity and fast transfer rates at low cost over point-to-point connections, SATA drives are proving to be the happy medium between high-performance Fibre Channel and SCSI disks and tapes.

Not surprisingly, all disk drive vendors now offer SATA models. Two deserve special mention: Fujitsu delivered the first 2.5in SATA drive, and Western Digital Corp pushed drive performance past the 10,000rpm barrier with its Raptor model.

In time, SATA drives will replace ATA on desktops and servers. It may even carve out new niches, thanks to its common interface with SAS. Replacing parallel SCSI with faster, more flexible serial connections and drives, SAS is expected to become the alpha male of disk drive technologies in 2004. We can expect to see controllers that can support hundreds of SAS or SATA drives in the coming year.

Adaptec, Hewlett-Packard, Maxtor, Fujitsu, and Seagate Technology LLC offered samples of SAS technology last year, and other vendors could soon follow suit. With that in mind, it’s easy to imagine storage arrays that mount both high-performing SAS and cost-effective SATA drives, saving customers both money and floor space. Speaking of space, Seagate not only entered the 2.5in mobile-drive market in 2003, but also proposed similarly sized enterprise-class drives. Adopting a smaller format should facilitate the construction of storage arrays that would require less electricity, cooling, and physical space while offering capacity and performance comparable to today’s arrays. Indeed, Fujitsu presented the first small-format SAS drives just before year’s end.

Heading into 2004, all of these storage technologies represent low-hanging fruit ripe for the harvest. If a stronger economy opens the gate on storage spending this year, expect a flood of innovation.

Story by Mario Apicella

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Analysis: Databases get a grip on XML

The next iteration of the SQL standard was supposed to arrive in 2003. But SQL standardisation has always been a glacially slow process, so nobody should be surprised that SQL:2003 — now known as SQL:200n — isn’t ready yet. Even so, 2003 was a year in which XML-oriented data management, one of the areas addressed by the forthcoming standard, showed up on more and more developers’ radar screens.

The steady growth of Web services, with an increasing focus on SOAP payloads — XML documents defined by the rules of XML Schema — was one contributing factor. The advent of Microsoft Office 2003 was another. Now that Microsoft’s productivity applications speak XML natively, there will be growing demand for XML-aware databases that can catalogue, search, and transform the XML representations of spreadsheets, memos, and forms.

Oracle’s XML DB, part of Oracle9i Release 2 (and now also 10g), anticipated the need. Available since mid-2002, the technology supports XML as a native type in the database and can map between W3C XML Schema and the SQL:1999 object model. XML content can be handled in more or less structured ways according to the needs of the application. At one end of that continuum, a database trigger can prevent insertion of an XML fragment that violates a referential integrity constraint. At the other end, a collection of XML documents can look like a hierarchical file system with which users navigate and directly interact.

IBM’s counterpart to Oracle’s XML DB, the DB2 XML Extender, received a few minor updates in 2003. But the big story was the DB2 Information Integrator, which takes a very different approach to that of Oracle. Rather than enabling many flavours of data to coexist happily in big central databases, IBM says it wants to enable many data flavours to federate smoothly across a diversity of databases. The DB2 Information Integrator mainly targets the SQL-oriented developer, but it supports XML (and freetext) search, maps between relational and XML schema, invokes XML Web services from SQL expressions, and can produce and transform XML result sets.

Microsoft’s long-awaited “Yukon” edition of SQL Server didn’t ship in 2003, but the first beta became available to some developers to kick the tyres. Some of the capabilities now expected to arrive in 2004 — a native XML data type called XQuery support — lag behind mainstream competition. A key differentiator for Yukon will be its use of the .Net Framework as a foundation for database programming.

While the spotlight shone on the heavyweight contenders, a couple of agile innovators made noteworthy advances in 2003. OpenLink Software’s Virtuoso 3.0, which we reviewed in March, stole thunder from all three major players. Like Oracle, it offers a WebDAV-accessible XML repository. Like DB2 Information Integrator, it functions as database middleware that can perform federated “joins” across SQL and XML sources. And like the forthcoming Yukon, it embeds the .Net CLR (Common Language Runtime), or in the case of Linux, Novell/Ximian’s Mono.

Also in 2003, Sleepycat Software released Berkeley DB XML, an XML-enhanced version of its popular embedded database. Available under dual open source/commercial licensing, Sleepycat’s core product has long been favoured for a variety of high-performance, transactional, but nonrelational applications. With XML support, it became interesting to a variety of players in the XML Web services arena. As increasing volumes of XML messages flow through service pipelines, there’s a need for specialised, high-performance data management tools. Berkeley DB XML exemplifies this emerging category.

A trend to watch in 2004 is growing support for XQuery. Current methods of querying XML data are rooted in a tradition of document-oriented XML; XQuery, in contrast, focuses on data-oriented XML. Given that SQL took decades to evolve, XML-oriented data management will probably take a while to gather steam.

But the wheels are turning.

Story by Jon Udell

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Picks and pans

Some products and vendors deserve to be singled out for their innovation or excellence. Other products and vendors deserve to be singled out for other reasons, whether they like it or not. So in what may be the beginning of another proud annual ritual, we’ve come up with a handful of ‘awards’ to recognise those who, although not necessarily innovative or excellent or even adequate, managed to stand out from the crowd in one way or another during 2003.

And the winners are...

Advanced Micro Devices’ Opteron processor truly is the Little Engine That Could. When Opteron launched in April, the Intel x86-compatible 64-bit processor faced a steep uphill battle against Intel’s Itanium. By year’s end, IBM and Microsoft delivered on early promises, and Sun Microsystems joined the bandwagon. Will Dell and Hewlett-Packard be next, or can’t they see Opteron from where they sit behind Intel?

Apple Computer receives the Dude, Where’s My Product Road Map? award in return for providing absolutely no helpful indication regarding when we might expect a G5-powered Xserve. Remember Steve, if you’re serious about the enterprise IT market, your servers really should be more powerful than your workstations.

EMC bags our All-You-Can-Eat award for not even blinking when it dropped $US3 billion on the table to acquire Documentum and Legato Systems, and another $US635 million to devour VMware before year’s end. What’s next? We’re bracing ourselves for yet another overblown utility computing initiative ... not to mention expensive ILM (Information Lifecycle Management) applications.

Microsoft deserves our coveted Pain in the NAS award for confounding competitors in the sleepy network-attached storage market. Attacking from the low end, Redmond’s Windows Storage Server 2003 is putting the heat on expensive proprietary NAS solutions.

Microsoft again wins the Best Shipping Beta award for Microsoft SQL Server 2000 for 64-bit Itanium systems. It’s a lightning-fast database engine, to be sure, but is missing crucial management features that DB admins would expect in a commercial release — as we discovered in our October test.

Network Appliance warrants the Old Dog New Tricks award for its surprising October launch of one of the most interesting iSCSI SANs, based on its entry-level FAS200 arrays and Adaptec controllers. Not bad for a die-hard filer vendor. And finally, Novell nabs our Stealth Fighter award for flying under nearly everyone’s radar to snatch SuSE Linux AG. Following on Novell’s acquisition of Ximian, the addition of SuSE’s enterprise-class Linux OS distribution puts Novell in the ring with Red Hat and Sun, who are also betting big on commercial Linux.

Staff writers

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The year’s best products

Drawn from the more than 200 products we tested during 2003, these winners represent the most innovative and effective solutions in their category

Hardware and Software Platforms

Best Server Hardware:

HP ProLiant DL760 G2
— Almost unrivalled in terms of reliability, redundancy, and raw processing power.

Best Server Blade System:

RLX ServerBlade 2800i and System 600ex
— The rest of the industry could learn a lot from RLX’s approach to management.

Best Systems Management Solution:

Vieo 1000 v1.1
— Easy-to-deploy management appliance learns normal system behaviour and responds to changes by dynamically provisioning existing resources.

Best Operating System:

Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther)
— Sets the bar for simplicity and ease of use, extends support to 64-bit hardware, and it’s secure by default.

Best Application Server:

IBM WebSphere Application Server 5.0
— Tight integration with tools, smooth application deployment, granular management.


Best Networking Hardware:

Extreme BlackDiamond 10K
— An excellent mix of raw 10Gig performance and polished management capabilities.

Best Wireless LAN Solution:

Vernier IS-6500p
— Provides extensive yet flexible control over who can access what, when, and where from 802.11 networks.


Best SAN Solution:

TotalStorage SAN Integration Server
— Edged out competing EMC and HP solutions as the all-around best performer in our mid-tier SAN roundup.

Best SAN Switch:

Maxxan MXV320
— Conquers multivendor SANs with useful virtualisation, replication, and other application-layer capabilities.

Best NAS Solution:

HP StorageWorks NAS b3000
— High-performance file server scales to 48TB and can connect to Fibre Channel SANs.

Best Storage Management Software:

Fujitsu Softek Automated Storage
— Provided the greatest control over mixed SAN hardware among the solutions we tested.

Application Development

Best Development Tool:
Eclipse 2.1 An extensible, soup-to-nuts IDE whose Standard Widget Toolkit is breathing new life into client-side Java software.

Databases & Data Management

Best Analytics, Reporting Solution:

Iteration Real-time Reporting Suite
— Innovative reporting software combines real-time information streams, events-based alerting, and easy-to-create dashboards.

Enterprise Applications

Best Hosted Application: Winter ‘04
— An easily customised SFA/CRM application that allows you to bend automated workflow to match the way you do business.

Best Web Services Iintegration Solution:

Grand Central Business Services Network
— Provides flexible, reliable, and auditable routing of SOAP messages among business partners.

Collaboration Software

Best Enterprise Collaboration Platform:

IBM Lotus Notes/Domino 6.5
— Greatly improved interface for both Web and stand-alone clients makes Notes-Domino a win-win.

Best Team Collaboration Solution:

Groove Workspace 2.5
— A well-integrated, peer-to-peer workspace extensible via an elegant SOAP API.


Best Network Security Product:

Niksun NetDetector
— A near perfect match of innovation and execution. Not only detects but records and replays intrusions.

Best Application Security Product:

KaVaDo InterDo 3.0
— Powerful wizard takes the mystery out of setting up a strong and complex Web application firewall.