Friday, June 1, 2012

PC Systems Integrators: Doomed?

(image courtesy of  ZDNet)
Jason Perlow's article in ZDNet entitled "Post-PC era means mass extinction for personal computer OEMs" predicts demise of PC manufacturing as we know it: Dell and HP will go the way of dinosaurs unless they make dramatic changes.

More importantly for specialty systems integrators like us, the business as we know it will dry up on several fronts.  One, COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) components will be fewer to choose from due to natural migration from desktops and workstations to tablets and laptops.  Two: video editing is changing dramatically as well, migrating from specialty workstations and desktops to (a) mobile platforms including tablets and even phones, and in large scale (studio) environments, eventually to (b) client-server systems where editing can be done on any screen connected to a private cloud.  Considering the advances in web applications, web-based video editing can't be too far off; its feasibility mainly a question of available bandwidth and its costs.  Tablet and Web-based video editing will require very little integration.

Consider the takeaways:

"Give a developer or someone in the scientific/engineering field a lot of back end server power on a private cloud and a professional monitor attached to a thin client, along with technologies like Microsoft’s RemoteFX for server-side GPU rendering of virtual desktops, and the need for those big desktops could entirely disappear."

If you have any doubts, consider that computer performance acceleration always outpaced demand for it in video applications.  10 years ago, you absolutely needed an expensive workstation to work even with mildly compressed SD material.  Today, HD editing is almost child play on sub-$1K laptops, a $2K laptop will afford GPU acceleration in Premiere Pro CS6.  While editing 4K on an ultrabook is probably a pain, the day is near when it will be a reality.

The demand for desktops and workstations steadily drops.

Are PC and specialty integrators doomed?  Yes and no.  We are doomed if we don't adapt and diversify into areas where integration and engineering will still be needed.  Here are some ideas:

  • Private clouds.  There are already remote access and VDI technologies at work that focus on speed and not just functionality.  Engineering such private clouds will require serious expertise for some time to come.  While no DCC vendor that I know of, expressly supports VDI, there is little doubt it's coming.
  • Focus on mobile.  For every workstation configuration, offer at least one mobile one.  "Desktop replacement" mobile solutions for high resolution video editing will likely need high-speed and possibly fault-tolerant storage and external GPUs; and those are less likely to be purchased from retail than from specialty integrators, for now.
  • Collaborative editing and DCC; MAM (Media Asset Management).  Environments with shared and collaborative access to media assets (think Avid Unity, EditShare, Vizrt, CatDV).
Will some content creators still require high-powered desktops and workstations with stacks of expensive GPUs inside?  Probably.  The real question is, will there be nearly as many vendors and integrators offering them in not so distant future?  As Jason points out in his article, " that, the answer is a resounding no."

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