Stories by Robert L. Mitchell

Steam processing at breaking speeds

At investment management firm Bridgewater Associates, access to real-time data is measured in market ticks. Data feeds containing quote and trade activity are expected to stream in at 124,000 messages per second this year, so even subsecond delays in the arrival of data can affect trading decisions and put the U.S.-based organization at a disadvantage.

New twist on LCD displays

Over the next 10 years, thin-film polymers and other flexible substrates could change how people think about and use displays. In the future, you may "print out" reports to sheets of e-paper: flexible polymer displays about as thick as a sheet of paper that can be spread out on a desk for easy comparison and analysis and then reused when the work is done. Your PDA or cell phone may incorporate a roll-up display that extends to let you view maps or Web pages on a larger screen. Your laptop may have a secondary display on the back of the case that can maintain any image you choose, such as your schedule and to-do list -- and you'll be able to refer to it even when the laptop is turned off. Some displays may be embedded on a shirt sleeve or curve around a watchband.

Flash forward to no disk crashes

Your next Windows laptop could run faster and last longer on a single battery charge, thanks to a new generation of hybrid hard disk drives and a feature in Windows Vista that leverages NAND flash memory as a disk cache. The feature, called ReadyDrive, could also reduce the incidence of hard disk crashes due to shocks -- the most common hardware failure in notebooks -- by decreasing the amount of time the disk needs to be spinning.

Virtual building blocks

Before General Motors broke ground on its Lansing Delta Township automobile manufacturing plant on Jan. 30, 2004, the 2.4million-square-foot facility had already been designed, built and equipped -- in cyberspace. Before the first shovel of earth had been turned at the physical building site, the Detroit automaker created a virtual factory -- a complete, 3-D version of the plant and its contents.

Skype slips into business

Two years ago, Mark Ehr and a few co-workers began using Skype to communicate between Proxima Technology's Denver headquarters and its offices in Sydney, Australia, and Windsor, England. "I'd spent hours talking to Sydney," says Ehr, director of product marketing at the 70-person software company. Luxembourg-based Skype's peer-to-peer voice-over-IP software routes calls over the public Internet, offers good voice quality and supports conference calls -- and it's free, he says.

New hybrid drives promise faster Vista laptops, PCs

Your next Windows laptop could run faster and last longer on a single battery charge thanks to a new generation of hybrid hard disk drives and a feature in the Windows Vista operating system that leverages NAND flash memory as a disk cache.

Managing virtual machines

It started out as a way to save money when Gannett Co. was adding new servers back in 2002. Now, says Eric Kuzmack, IT architect at the US regional newspaper publisher, "we have a couple hundred virtual machines in our data center." Virtualization technology has increased IT staff efficiency by allowing virtual servers to be deployed in days instead of the weeks required to provision physical machines.

Power struggle

Increasing power demands in data centres are stressing nboth power distribution and cooling systems. Here's how IT managers cope.

Virtualization to transform IT

As founder and chief scientist at VMware Inc, Mendel Rosenblum has been in the thick of the development of virtualization technologies. He recently spoke about how virtualization is changing the IT landscape.

Opinion: Why Good Technologists Are Hard to Find

At the recent US Computerworld Premier 100 conference, IT leaders searched for a clear pathway through many challenges: the rising tide of globalization, offshoring, mergers and acquisitions, and rapid technological change. Attendees debated how to make postmerger IT integration projects move more quickly and how to consolidate infrastructure while innovating in areas such as enterprise data warehouses and analytics applications that can cut costs and generate revenues.

Morphing the mainframe

As distributed systems take on more mainframe-like qualities, the future of big iron hinges on its ability to adapt to the distributed computing revolution without being consumed by it.

Built to last

Computer systems aren't what they used to be -- and IT is taking full advantage of that fact. As the durability and reliability of servers, desktop PCs and laptops have improved, organizations are keeping equipment longer. The average time between refreshes for servers is now four to six years, up from just two to three years in the 1990s, according to Boston-based Yankee Group Research. In addition, tighter budgets have forced IT to consider extending those life cycles.

Streaming the desktop

Automated software distribution has been a hot topic in desktop management, but the next big thing is on-demand software delivery. While ASD tools help control desktop support costs by making software installations consistent, the on-demand software-delivery technologies go one step further: They can virtualize the local installation and stream the applications -- and even the operating system -- from a central distribution server in real time.

Robots move into corporate role

Although robots have long been essential to manufacturing, other industry sectors have been slow to adopt the machines. Companies like ActivMedia Robotics are trying to change that. ActivMedia designs intelligent mobile robots, sensing systems and controls for enterprise use. The Amherst, N.H.-based firm has more than 2,000 units in the field, says CEO Jeanne Dietsch. She spoke about robots and their future in IT with Computerworld US correspondent Robert L. Mitchell.

Data Center Gets Star Treatment

As it rushed to complete work on Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith last February, special effects company Industrial Light and Magic found itself split between two worlds. The new home of the San Rafael, California-based studio was in the final phase of construction as part of the Letterman Digital Arts Center (LDAC), a 850,000 -square-foot, four-building campus in San Francisco's Presidio National Park. Two of those buildings today serve as headquarters for George Lucas' Lucasfilm as well as its ILM and LucasArts Entertainment Co. subsidiaries.