By Martin Banks

With IT managers facing an unprecedented rate of change in both technology and information architectures, even systems integrators (SIs) are being pushed to the edge of their knowledge in building new applications.

Many enterprises are also facing systems platform changes, while others are contemplating the possible advantages that Web services technology might offer them. “For many of them, the changes they are facing represent a significant leap in the dark,” said Jim Henrys, Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region manager at Winnersh, England-based Intel Solution Services. “It is also a leap in the dark for many SIs. They are understandably risk-averse, and many are now about to undertake development projects in areas where they have limited experience.”

The risk that IT managers and SIs face stems from the fact that many will not have handled such work before, particularly in the new and still poorly defined area of Web services. This is where Henrys claims that the Intel division can help. The division provides a consultancy and piloting service to IT pros, particularly in the area of working with the very latest generation technology. “In fact, we call it One Generation Ahead, because we work with the IT pros to give them experience on the technology coming down the track,” Henrys said. “The projects we are involved in are normally exploiting the technology that is three months away from general release.”

The object is to provide IT managers and SIs with guidance on how best to build systems utilizing that latest technology, so that they can then work with customers more effectively. “In a way, it is like going through worked examples at the bleeding edge of technology, so they can then continue to operate at that level,” he said. “In that respect, we are certainly not a consultancy ‘body shop’ in competition with the SIs. The aim is to work with them so that they can then work with their customers.”

Seeing solutions in practice
The ability to work with the latest technology allows SIs and applications developers to check how well their planned customer solutions work in practice. They can build actual pilot systems using the as yet unreleased technology, and Intel has the tools to drill down to the silicon level to check for and reengineer problem areas, such as code hot spots. “We consider all the software vendors’ road maps agnostically,” Henrys said. “We are not looking to lock anyone into a technology or to play favorites.”

The IT manager can work either with an SI (who then works with Intel), with Intel direct, or with both of them together if it is a bleeding-edge project, where everyone is feeling his or her way.

The piloting process also allows the IT managers, SIs, and their customers to validate many of the operational procedures needed in the final production environment. “These can include important areas such as disaster recovery,” Henrys said. “Using the pilot, we can, and often do, apply the simple test of turning the power off while the system is running. It is a very good way of establishing whether disaster recovery tools and procedures work, in advance of putting systems into a production environment.”

He expects piloting to be particularly important for areas such as Web services, where the wide acceptance of industry standards will lead to the development of a wide range of new applications. “We expect to see a large number of pilot projects running in this area over the coming year, as it is the hot topic of the moment. But there is also a great deal of fear about Web services, and many customers will be turning to SIs and IT managers for help in developing applications.

“In addition, we expect that many users will end up wanting to mix both .NET and Java environments as components of their particular solutions, so making sure the two work together in any specific project is going to be crucial.”