Musings About COMDEX

Having returned from COMDEX in Las Vegas, I'm still digesting all I saw. Because I didn't arrive in Las Vegas until Tuesday morning, traffic was mild and the convention floor wasn't very busy. (I regretted missing Showstoppers on Monday night.) Years ago, COMDEX was THE show to attend, where the big products were introduced, the big deals were made, and the trade caught up with itself every year. In those days, COMDEX was a vendor-to-vendor show, which is less true now.

Today, COMDEX is North America's largest trade show—with more than 225,000 participants. As the show has grown, it has lost some of its vendor-to-vendor focus and become a consumer show as well. However, COMDEX still has some vendor-to-vendor emphasis. For example, when I asked Mylex why it was at COMDEX, I learned that OEMs still use COMDEX to spec out vendor products. In fact, COMDEX has a little bit of something for everybody. But if you're interested in something specific-–say, storage or servers—you have to dig a little to find it.

I checked out the fibre channel exhibit area. The fibre channel vendors (about 20) have moved from a room in the convention center onto the show floor. I spoke with several fibre channel vendors, including Data Core and Mylex. Data Core has an interesting product that helps you manage heterogeneous storage devices on a Storage Area Network (SAN) using a Windows NT Server as a storage controller for virtualization. Mylex presented its new RAID adapter boards. (Watch for more about these companies in future columns.)

Another exhibit area on the show floor, with about 30 vendors, was devoted to optical read/write technologies, including DVD. DVD is starting to make inroads into CD-ROM territory and, on the consumer side, into VHS territory. Once a rewritable DVD system becomes affordable, VHS might become a dinosaur.

Near the DVD exhibit area, Hitachi's holographic video display involved projecting a very high resolution image onto a glass pane. The image was spectacular. Recent advances in display technology impress me, and this system looks like a step up from the plasma monitors that currently define the high end.

The digital camera is another compelling product. Olympus, one of the hotter acts in this area, showed output from a new 4-megapixel camera. The digital camera output is starting to rival that of film, and at 4 megapixels, these cameras will help sell a lot of hard drives. My sister, who runs an electron microscopy facility at the University of California at San Diego, calls these 2K cameras (2K x 2K). When she bought one this summer, she paid far more than the $8000 that Olympus is charging, and a small shop in Germany built the camera for her. It's amazing how far and how fast digital photography has come.

Journalists who attend COMDEX find much of interest off the convention floor—at technology demos in hotel suites. One such demo that I found interesting was Tricord Systems' storage aggregation technology, which I'll write about mid-December.

I went to an appliance exhibit at one hotel, hoping to find something interesting in the way of storage or servers. But the exhibit featured dumbed-down PCs posing as Internet terminals for grandma, software for Internet content display on phones, and gadgets such as AOL's TV service. But no storage or servers. And that happens at COMDEX too: You expect apples and find oranges.

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