Interop Preview: Tech Industry Gets Ready To Rumble

The nation's leading business technology event, Interop, gains added breadth this year as it is co-located with Software 2008, an event aimed at software developers, users, and industry executives.

The boxing ring at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, which in the past has hosted pugilists like Sugar Shane Mosley and Lennox Lewis, might be a more appropriate venue for some of the sessions scheduled for next week's Interop 2008 show in Las Vegas than the hotel's placid conference rooms.

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April 27 to May 2, 2008

That's because the show's sessions and keynote addresses will cover a host of topics -- from Microsoft's new OOXML format to offshoring and Green IT -- that are sure to evoke heated debate, at the very least. Indeed, a number of panels will deal with subjects, such as the privacy implications of video surveillance and the impact of H-1B visa workers on the economy, that are ripped straight from today's headlines and never fail to raise the temperature of network pundits like Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly.

"At this exciting time of innovation in the IT market, Interop's keynote speakers will address critical matters spanning the entire range of issues facing the industry today," said Interop general manager Lenny Heymann, in a statement.

One of the most controversial sessions is sure to be Tuesday's Microsoft-led discussion on document format interoperability -- "a crucial issue to public sector and enterprise IT alike," according to Interop organizers.

The session, at 4:15 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, features Microsoft senior technical evangelist Craig Kitterman, who will discuss how the emergence of open, standards-based formats that leverage XML -- such as Microsoft Office Open XML -- can help improve document interoperability.

That's a fancy way of saying that a document created and stored in one application can be opened in another.

The catch: Critics say OOXML is not truly standards-based and is not fully interoperable, and have accused Microsoft of bullying the ISO into approving the format as an international standard. With that background, it should be a lively session -- especially if there are some fans of the rival open source Open Document Format in the audience. Kitterman may need a mouth guard and a good corner man!

Open Season On Open Source?

Of course, open source software isn't without controversies of its own. Some companies, including Microsoft, Novell, and Acacia Research, allege that Linux and other open source programs use code that violates privately held patents. If that's ever proven in court, companies, including TiVo and Verizon, that use open source products in their production environments could be exposed to legal risks.

"While being extremely economical, open source comes with its own set of IP issues," Interop organizers note. With that in mind, a session called "IP Issues in Open Source: What Buyers and Vendors Need To Know," is a must-attend for IT managers who work in environments that use open source software and want to learn how to keep their gloves up.

The panel, on Tuesday at 11:30 PDT, will be led by Janet Campbell, legal counsel for the Eclipse Foundation.

Another topic that often provokes verbal sparring, and one that will be prominently featured at Interop, is offshore outsourcing.

Virtually all major U.S. corporations are now farming out software development and computer-based back-office work to low-cost countries like India and China, as well as parts of Eastern Europe and South America. Proponents of the practice argue that it allows businesses to save money on routine work while investing more in high-growth opportunities.

Critics charge that companies simply want to hire cheap labor at the expense of American workers.

The fact is, offshoring has become an integral business practice for large companies and is only likely to increase in the years ahead as technical improvements make the process easier and cheaper to manage. That begs the question: where will all those jobs go?

At his "Sinking Like A BRIC" (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) session on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. PDT, Steve Mezak, CEO of outsourcing advisory firm Accelerance, will provide some answers. Mezak argues that traditional offshore hot spots, including Bangalore and Mumbai, are becoming oversold and that better, cheaper alternatives are emerging in India and elsewhere.

Interop organizers say session attendees will "discover the latest offshoring trends and perhaps the optimum place to outsource your software development."

National Insecurity

Another IT-related topic that's popping up in the general news media with increasing frequency is information security -- or lack thereof. Government bodies like the National Institutes of Health and corporate giants such as Acxiom and ChoicePoint have been pummeled in the headlines following embarrassing security breaches that left consumers' personal data vulnerable to theft.

In the aftermath, the NIH even went so far as to ban employees from using Apple MacBooks until they could be outfitted with effective encryption software.

"The costs attributed to data theft and data loss is staggering as more users -- both inside and outside the company -- have broader access to sensitive data than ever before," Interop organizers note. Those concerned about the issue might want to check out the session "Preventing Enterprise Data Loss: Best Practices to Identify, Control and Manage Sensitive Data."

The session, on Thursday at 10:15 a.m. PDT, will be led by Todd Graham, senior technologist at RSA, which is EMC's security division.

Closely related to data security is the issue of physical security, both for buildings and employees. More companies are turning to computer-based systems to protect both their physical and human assets. "The convergence of physical security and enterprise IT is growing at a staggering rate," Interop organizers say. But many of these systems, such as surveillance cameras and face recognition technology, have drawn complaints from privacy advocates.

What's The Right Balance?

The question will surely come up at a panel discussion titled "Best Practices In Physical Security" on Tuesday at 2 p.m. PDT. The panel, hosted by IP Video Security Editor-in-Chief Kevin Marier, will feature security professionals from retail, law enforcement, and city government.

Greener Is Cleaner

This week saw Earth Day, and cities around the world held events to mark the occasion. But is global warming just a myth invented by Al Gore and a few other retired gadflies with too much time on their hands? The scientific debate is ongoing, but one thing is inarguable whatever your position on the issue -- greener is cheaper because it lowers electricity and gas bills.

Given the importance of the issue, Interop this year will host a conference-within-conference called Energy Camp. "Energy Camp is a collaborative forum where industry stakeholders will gather together to discuss the growing impact of today's energy costs on IT's bottom line," according to the camp's organizers.

Energy Camp will follow the Open Space "unconference" format, with attendees deciding session topics. Suggested topics to date include ways to extend green computing beyond the data center and methods for encouraging eco- and budget-friendly alternatives to business travel. "Is video conferencing a reasonable substitute for what might have been a face-to-face meeting?," conference organizers ask.

Microsoft chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard will deliver the Energy Camp keynote address on Monday at 9:15 a.m. PDT in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

On the exhibit hall floor, Interop will feature 25% more vendors than last year, according to conference operator TechWeb, which publishes InformationWeek.

Click here for a full list of vendors and planned product introductions.

Interop, which runs April 27 through May 2, also gains added breadth this year as it's co-located at Mandalay Bay with Software 2008. The latter features a range of panels and demonstrations targeted at software developers, users, and industry executives.

With all that and more, it's virtually assured that Interop 2008 will weigh in as the heavyweight champ of IT conferences.

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