Iconics Customer Summit, 2008 -- Day 2, in which . . .

our intrepid reporter, Paul Miller, visits a Hard Rock Cafe, listens to Dutch jazz, takes a deep dive into the Iconics/Microsoft partnership and examines some of its cooler spawn . . .  Plus, Moore's Law, R.I.P.? As tired as I was, I sure did enjoy the Iconics Summit hospitality event at Boston’s Hard Rock Café last night, a place I haven’t visited in many years.  The Guitar Legend contest was mildly entertaining (although probably ill-advised as a participation event for a group composed largely of middle-aged engineers), but the food, drink, conversation and live music (the Candy Store jazz group from The Netherlands) were all outstanding.  Today’s program began with a morning general session that focused on why Iconics is embracing 64-bit technology, the goodness of Microsoft Vista, the depth of the Iconics-Microsoft relationship and more details on the newly launched Genesis64 platform.  Iconcis is heralding Genesis64 as the next generation of automation software technology, and as far as I can determine, this is probably not an overstatement. Founder, President and CEO Russ Agrusa, kicked off today’s general session with a presentation entitled, “Scalable Software for Real-Time Visual Intelligence.”  That scalable software, of course, is Genesis64. Agrusa presented some the results of an Iconics user survey that indicated that safety is the biggest driver for implementing applications for plant floor visibility, followed by improved asset reliability.  The survey also indicated that plant operators and maintenance staffs are the two most influential organizations in a manufacturing plant, but the relative influence of plant IT departments is increasing.  It’s nice some when some hard data becomes available to support our common sense assumptions. Agrusa then went on to provide an overview of the specific technology elements and development activities that went into the creation of Genesis64.  He also formally announced a partnership with Kepware, located in Portland, Maine, to develop and provide, standards-based, end-to-end connectivity solutions built on OPC-UA. Robert Doi, group product marketing manager for Windows Vista deployment at Microsoft, then gave an informative presentation on why Windows Vista is well-suited for industrial applications, and also how Iconics is at the head of the ISV pack when it comes to exploiting Windows Vista capabilities.  Doi also gave some specific examples of how, through the relatively close relationship between the two companies, Iconics is providing valuable input that helps to shape Microsoft’s development efforts.  Doi explained how Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 are better integrated than some previous Microsoft client and server platforms and some of the benefits that this provides to ISVs and other users.  As one example of the improved diagnostics capabilities, Doi demonstrated how you can dive down into Vista diagnostics to get a report on what and when problematic software elements were downloaded into a Windows Vista PC and then backtrack to remove stuff that might be causing the PC to slow down or hiccup.  Very cool stuff. Michael Masse, president of Quebec-based Simsmart Technologies, then demonstrated  a  dynamic simulation and optimization solution his company developed for ventilation systems in the mining industry. The solution, which integrates Simsmart’s own engineering suite with Genesis32, dynamically calculates optimal air flows throughout a mine, depending on which diesel engines are running at any moment.  The solution then sends the optimal controller setpoints (via OPC) to PLCs.  According to Masse, this solution has been proven to enable aggressive energy management in a mine, which can translate into energy savings of 30%-50%, with improved air flows. As a fairly dramatic presentation of the power that 64-bit technology can bring to a particular application, Masse then showed a demo created jointly with Iconcis development people that illustrated the benefits of running the same optimization solution in Genesis64.  This included the ability to navigate effortlessly throughout the mine in 3D and click on any equipment to access 3D dashboards. Masse himself admitted to being amazed by the capability of the software. Next on the agenda was John Delorme, an ISV architect evangelist at Microsoft, who spoke on the adoption of 64-bit technology in the marketplace.  According to Delorme, emerging industry trends include: software as a service, ubiquitous connectivity, massive storage and virtualization, and the emergence of 64-bit technology. According to Delorme, Moore’s Law no longer applies, since the laws of physics are working against us now when it comes to further increased processing capacity on a single chip. Instead, said Delorme, future improvements in processing capability will come from multi-core technology, which enables parallel processing. Delorme also commented that manufacturing is one vertical market that can clearly benefit from 64-bit computing capabilities and that “pretty soon, it will be hard to find a 32-bit machine.” According to Delorme, Microsoft has built such a good relationship with Iconics that “we have to listen to them.” In the Genesis64 technology overview that followed, Simone Massaro, head of the Genesis64 development effort, provided a fairly detailed technology overview of the new platform.  “We started completely from the ground up and re-invented everything we’ve done before.”  Some key points: Genesis64 is fully designed for 64-bit computing; leverages the power of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista; is OPC-UA to the core; 100% web-enabled; and offers a modular, plug-in architecture.  One key differentiator is that the development environment runs entirely inside Internet Explorer. Finally, Jim Luth, OPC Foundation Technology Director, provided the audience with an excellent overview on OPC-UA (Universal Architecture), which, according to Luth, was developed to overcome the limitations of DCOM (upon which OPC was originally built).   According to Luth, OPC-UA provides compatibility across multiple platforms, supports multiple protocols and allows for an object oriented approach to expressing and exposing data.  “Soon you’ll see field devices with built-in OPC-UA servers, and this will be huge,” Luth predicted.
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  • <p>On Delorme's comment regarding Moore's law - Naysayers have been claiming that argument for decades. In 2000 I had a computer science professor present a graph of CPU core temperatures needed to support the continuation of Moores's Law. I believe by this year it would be the temperature of an atomic bomb and soon, the Sun. </p> <p>There is a theoretical limit with our current computing architecture. However, many factors enable more powerful CPUs - constantly shrinking process, innovative designs such as Intel's Core 2 Duo CPUs that disable unused portions of their cache, etc. Multi-core CPUs is one possible approach, but our current algorithms cannot utilize them efficiently. The usefulness is limited to: graphics (games), specialty crypto applications, and such. </p> <p>Delorme is right about one thing though, 64 bit computing and multiple cores works wonders for virtualization, which is huge in the server segment (I don't buy that arguement for desktop computing).</p>

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