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The Biggest Enterprise IT Announcements at CES

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The 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) featured a surprising number of announcements and briefings that had enterprise IT content.

Perhaps the most interesting was Panasonic’s. The company stated it would be bucking the “consumer is everything” trend. They are already shifting their strategic efforts more to business, led by their ToughBook division and their new ToughPads.

In addition, Microsoft provided briefings on the Surface Pro, and NVIDIA launched a new server class at the event.

Because there isn’t a Comdex anymore, CES may be picking up some of the business content that the Comdex show lost over time. And January may actually now be a better time for a business launch than a consumer launch.

Panasonic Business Tablets

Panasonic led at CES with the most aggressive business presence, seeming to suggest that currently available consumer tablets are not so great. They made a compelling argument.

While consumers use tablets for movies, reading, Web browsing and games, companies use them for mission-critical activities. Hospitals and the military use them in life-threatening situations. Failure in business for any technology comes with high dollar signs, and that typically justifies a product that is far more robust.

Much of Panasonic’s expansion over the last decade has been in areas like in-plane entertainment, commercial electronic signage and in projectors. But at the show they showed off a line of tablets, adding a 7” Android-based product to the 10” in market and a 10” Windows 8 tablet with 8 hours (best in class) battery life and military spec durability with outdoor viewable screens.

The products aren’t cheap but neither are the business and lives they protect.

NVIDIA Graphics Server

We’ve been talking about GPU computing lately largely because of NVIDIA’s graphics technology efforts in the supercomputer market. With an increasing emphasis on game streaming and companies like OnLive moving into that space, it was only a matter of time before someone unveiled a graphics server.

NVIDIA launched one, called the GeForce Grid Server, at the show, and it is an impressive beast. But much as OnLive moved to provide business hosted applications on their technology, NVIDIA is planning to move these servers into the business market to address application hosting. They could be particularly useful as an engineering workstation alternative.

Granted, I doubt NVIDIA will offer them alone. Instead, it will likely partner with Dell, HP or Lenovo (my bet is Lenovo because they are being the most disruptive at the moment), suggesting a mid-market initial focus.

Graphics server technology could also significantly bump up the kind of performance you can get from internet service providers at low costs. Smart IT managers may want to get ahead of this before they find a good chunk of their highly confidential R&D is going on at some uncertified Web service provider.

Table PCs

The supersized tablet space is where Lenovo is being the most disruptive. They launched a 27” table PC at the show.

A table PC is one that lies flat on the table. Users work on it from the top. 3M actually showcased a conference table (looked to be about 60” or 70”) that really pushed this envelope. It showcased how beneficial this technology could be for creative group meetings, working on GANT chart-like logistics activities or for playing incredible board games (not that any of our employees would EVER think of doing the latter).

I think this is one of the more significant business technologies we’ll see this decade. Bigger will always be better in the case of this technology—fighting the trend toward smaller and smaller products.

As a side note, Lenovo also seemed to have the most powerful presence of any of the top-tier PC vendors at the show.

In-Car DVR

The show was nearly overrun with Chinese vendors I’d never heard of before. And their products appeared to be of relatively high quality.

One of them from a company called ThinkWare caught my eye. They offer an in-car DVR which runs constantly, and then, like an airplane black box, captures the information about an accident automatically.

This could be an ideal solution for law enforcement, delivery companies or any use where a jury might make a massive award against a deep-pocket company unless that company could show an accident wasn’t their fault.

Wrapping Up: CES Isn’t Just About the Consumer

BYOD, or bring your own device, is now a fact of life in business.

I recently had a secret meeting with the Microsoft Surface team, and they clearly have heard back from their enterprise advisory council about enterprise needs for a better tablet solution. As a result, first with Surface Pro next month and then with Surface RT, enterprise IT will be seeing a number of focused improvements targeting their needs. And where Microsoft goes with Surface, a lot of folks, maybe even Apple, will likely follow.

So BYOD may actually be getting a lot better shortly. If you weren’t already planning to, I’d make sure you get a briefing from Microsoft on Surface at your first opportunity.

CES isn’t just about the consumer anymore.

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