I rushed into Hannover, parked my suitcases, and went by tram to the Grand Opening Ceremony at the Hannover Congress Zentrum. Outside, about 50m or so from the front door, were a couple hundred protesters. I’m not sure, but I believe they were protesting the Turkish PM’s visit to CeBIT as a keynote speaker.
Protesters at the Grand Opening Ceremony
Turkey was the partner country this year at CeBIT, and Turkey was showing their ITC prowess in 4500sq meters of exhibit space. I saw some of it. It was… interesting.
In his speech, the Turkish PM railed on about how visa qualification was hurting Turkey’s ability to do business in the EU, and especially in Germany. He noted that Germany has more Turks living there than some EU member country’s entire population. Indeed my Hannover neighborhood had many Turkish residences and businesses. Hookas and great Middle Eastern cuisine abounded in many other Hannover warrens, too. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said she’d work on the problem. Sam Palmisano, CEO and poobah of IBM, also greeted the crowd at the Zentrum. IBM’s presence was enormous at the fairgrounds, too.
The visa problem also haunts the international participation in US tradeshows, but also other tradeshows/conferences in the EU. The post 9/11 atmosphere has added a layer of business-killing bureaucracy with visas, and the US Embassies aren’t the fastest in the world to turn visas around for requesters. We were once friends, but now we have to verify it, it seems. Entry for me, a US citizen, was simple. But coming to the US is more difficult even for EU citizens. Bad news. Sam and I had no problem. But we weren’t from Turkey. Dubai is now making a name for itself in the conferences/tradeshow world simply because there are no needs for visas. Imagine that.
The Conference and Trade Fair
The good news was that CeBIT had a wonderful attendance, more than 4000 exhibitors (I think statistically there were more than that) and a wider and more appealing mixture of exhibitors was to be found. For reasons that are purely German trade fair politics, CeBIT had eschewed consumer electronics, but they’ve reappeared. No more stodgy business-only, wear-a-suit sort of show.
The opening day crush was made crazier still by a tour of the show by the German Chancellor, the Turkish PM, and other high potentates. Imagine you, 400K of your friends, and tight security. It was a bit silly to maneuver around initially, but tenable.
There were conferences; I had no time to see them.
I started at Hall 9, which contained Public Sector and University pavilions. This is always a hotbed of innovation, and it was as good as last year. I had hoped to see more ‘green’ themed offerings, but was pleased to find university research going well. Across the fairgrounds, I focused on the digital health exhibits. Although dominated by just a few organizations, there was lots to see, ranging from skis as a digital input device (you get to play downhill skiing games using your feet and swaying motions) through to new sports beverages– with alcohol in them.
There were a few stands that also had green vehicle technology on display, as well as advanced automotive digital dashes and device integration components. The iPad as a co-pilot is not far off. A few EVs (Electric Vehicles) could be found, and I longed for more. It’s my belief that people in tech are the most accepting of EV technology, and I was pleased to find lots of attention being paid to vehicle charging systems– personal and commercial ones. One item that caught my eye was an electric bike.
Cool Electric Bike. I want one.
The Battery is the Tire is the Battery.
The Italian Pavilion had something that drew my attention, then stunned me. An organization demonstrated a blade server (nothing new) with storage frame (also nothing new) and a fully redundant chassis for the blade server (a 2N configuration for those that understand high availability constructions). So far, nothing new. Then I was floored: this company, Revenge.it, puts 240 cores in each chassis on their blades, making the entire stack just 15U tall! This is one of the densest ‘cans’ I’ve ever seen! Ten years ago, this stack standing barely a foot and a half tall, replaces the functionality of a warehouse of servers of the old variety; imagine 480 old free-standing HP, IBM, or Dell servers; this replaces them. Each blade has its own power supply, which is even more astounding (and redundant for those that care). Fabulous. Ingenious. And apparently, sold heavily to NATO.
After a brief intermission, I landed in the ASEAN pavilions– China, Taiwan, Korea (there is only one at CeBIT), and a spot called the Golden Mall. Here was the more interesting consumer and small business innovation. There were tablet/pads galore on display. Few were shipping, but I saw dozens of varieties ranging from too small to be useful through to very large (18″x11″) with vivid, battery eating displays. Batteries were there. Bags. WiFi gear. Cables, OEM whitebox computers. Cameras. Storage of every flavor and type. One booth had nothing but flashdrive housings. Another showed brilliant do-it-yourself mobile phone covers. Still another had highly advanced microwave transceivers.
Famous organizations like ASUS and MSI had large stands with interesting varieties of gear. Some of their stands showed what Americans think of as ASUS and MSI like netbooks and vivid displays,but a few strange items were displayed as well. One that comes to mind was a Roomba-like vacuum cleaner robot from MSI that tried frequently to vacuum up crumbs, but never quite got them. I wonder if it was full; it couldn’t hold very much given its size.
MSI Vacuum. Little whirring whiskers. Not so good.
There were interesting cameras, some with helmet mounts, others the type you might see watching you in a NYC taxi. There was higher-end gear, like routers, FC switches, and industrial servers. One organization I ran into had high-density 1U servers and drive cages, all ready to accept whatever program loads you’d like.
In Hall 2, one of CeBIT’s largest, were the iron mongers. IBM had a Z-series mainframe as well as a bladeserver to heat up the chilly late-winter German air inside the Hall. In theme with all-things-cloud CeBIT trend, I listened to an IBM rep, who tried to explain cloud to several doubtful looking executives, in English. It seemed, in my discussions with many people at CeBIT, that cloud is a hassle in the EU for many reasons, much amounting to privacy. I don’t think they really get cloud in the EU… a handful understand, but there’s amazing reluctance to try it.
IBM's Cloudy Vision of The Cloud
Microsoft pushed Cloud. The color is Azure.
I look for signs that the rest of the world has some how pulled ahead of the US in one technology direction or another. Leadership and the pride that goes with it is important. The strong technology focus in the US and Canada have been a source of important changes. I don’t see much change in this area; the EU progresses more slowly, sometimes with a Rodney Dangerfield problem.
Apple, whose product appeared in many places but not because Apple was an exhibitor at CeBIT, used the CeBIT event like a cowbird– announcing the iPad 2 so as to take the media frenzy to advantage. They did this at CES. They’ll do it at other events, too. Free ride for Apple.
iPads were there. Apple was not.
Yet there were literally dozens of new tablet computers at CeBIT, although few were ready to ship. I saw Android Honeycomb, MeeGo, Windows 7 (!), and even one with iOS on it. Few are shipping. The most amusing if tragic tablet came from Lenovo– with MeeGo (the doomed operating system) on it. Some were really pretty, others too heavy, some were just plain weird as their screens were tiny compared to their frames. Does Apple have to worry? Apple doesn’t worry about anything.
Lenovo Tablet Running the Austere MeeGo OS
There was more: retail POS systems, restaurant systems, VoIP makers, PBX makers, and many industrial products makers. I walked past these, looking for something special: green computing. I didn’t find much. Geothermal cooling was largely absent. There were a few interesting battery technologies, but nothing I haven’t seen before elsewhere.
What was somewhat wondrous were new conferences. CeBIT has had mixed, often negative results with conferences and this year there seemed to be a lot of them– and on salient topics. I didn’t have time for them, sadly. Two and a half days doesn’t really permit them. Of the press conferences seen, not much was really new there, either. This isn’t a newsy, announcement-driven event. Instead, it’s about business, doing business, taking orders, meeting new people, and cruising the widest variance of computer-related technologies in one spot on the planet.
In a time when the IT/ITC industry is trying to maintain its position and grow, I had great disappointment in the lower number of US industry participants. Yes, Google and IBM were there, Apple would never come, and there was indeed a USA Pavilion, but it was tiny, ghastly small compared to previous years. I saw Dell and others, whose stands are run by country managers. But the musculature of US tech wasn’t really present in an organized way like it used to be. It was sad. If President Obama really wants to increase exports, he’ll need to find a way to fund a bit more into programs like CeBIT, the largest tech conference on the planet.
CeBIT has now joined forces with CompuTex, the leading computer hardware show that’s located in Taipei. The idea is to join together these two best-of-breed shows into a single sales venture, allowing organizations to sign-on to both, logistically. The Taiwanese government believes this is a coup, and are very proud of the deal that joins the two largest computer shows on earth together. This duo competes with several other conferences that are subsets of technologies represented at CompuTex and CeBIT: iFA in Berlin, CES in Las Vegas, CTIA in Las Vegas, and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Europe has indeed, along with the joiner of CompuTex in Taiwan, moved the conference agenda away from the USA. I’m not happy about that. I’m glad for their success, but it shows the problem with US tech leadership in the world: the US needs to market itself personally, not across the Internet, to gain new international customers. Not all of them use Facebook.
I was able to leave before the German train conductors and drivers went on a strike. I didn’t personally hear of any travel problems caused by the strike, but it was timed in a strange way. What I did like was that CeBIT is still strong, seems to have improved its management team, has found focus (if in a decidedly ‘CeBIT’ sort of way), and is weathering the economic malaise better than others. It was a bit brutal to travel from Bloomington Indiana to Hannover and return in five days. I won’t do that again. But I’ll likely return. I usually learn a lot at CeBIT, professionally, personally, and of the pulse of the worldwide pace of technology evolution. I hope it continues to be as interesting as I found it– or better.