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Sun 9 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

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Gitex diary 2008

More than 3,300 companies from 83 countries attended this year's GITEX Technology Week, sparking a wave of new regional partnership and strategy announcements. Channel Middle East was there to capture all the major talking points of the five-day show.

More than 3,300 companies from 83 countries attended this year's GITEX Technology Week, sparking a wave of new regional partnership and strategy announcements. Channel Middle East was there to capture all the major talking points of the five-day show.

Day 1

GITEX kicked off with a stronger public sector presence than usual following a 20% increase in the number of UAE government offices participating.

Many IT decision-makers were there to evaluate solutions capable of increasing operational efficiency and they didn't end up disappointed as a wealth of technology providers showcased software and services aimed at public sector organisations.

Numerous exhibitors also displayed their appetite for the SMB market, which continues to expand in size throughout the Middle East. Pinnacle Computer Systems was one such company bidding to show SMEs its ERP and CRM capabilities.

"We have an opportunity to reach these companies through the show and we already have the positioning and infrastructure in place to cater to each of their individual needs," said CEO George Thomas.

Oracle-focused Raqmiyat had small and medium businesses in its sights as well as it claimed the SMB sector was growing so quickly that systems from smaller vendors were no longer relevant.

"In the initial stages of the market, SMBs tried to implement smaller solutions and they landed up in trouble," said programme manager, Jacob Andrews. "Now, even the SMB segment is looking for a decent vendor and a good implementation because they are not able to manage with the existing small vendor applications."

GITEX drew a strong crowd of integrators for the five-day extravaganza, including Mideast Data Systems, which was there to promote its range of ATM solutions. "GITEX is undoubtedly crucial to the success of our company in the Middle East region as well as to our global operations," declared Sami Abi Esber, president at MDS.

While MDS is an established name on the systems integration scene, the Dubai International Exhibition and Convention Centre was also packed with its fair share of new faces, including networking services provider Dimension Data which opened an office in the region earlier this year. The South Africa-based outfit used GITEX to reinforce its expertise in providing connected real estate solutions.

"One of our strongest assets is our team of skilled engineers who understand the needs of clients in this market," claimed Siddek Rahim, managing director at the company's Gulf operation.

Day 2

Leading exhibitors at the show remained defiant that the Middle East would ride out the current credit storm as talk of global economic issues continued to dominate discussions.

The Middle East boasts a booming economy and provides major opportunities for expanding our business," said Dan Smith, office marketing manager at Xerox's developing markets organisation. "Internationally, it remains a good place to do business."

Smith pointed out that government IT investments worth US$325m over the next couple of years would also help stimulate the market and his view that the region was placed to overcome any knock-on effect was echoed by CRM software provider Sage.

We usually exhibit at GITEX with the plan of securing new deals with regional resellers and customers. This year we are doing that as usual, but we are also looking to recruit staff for our new regional offices in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia," explained Middle East boss Marc Van der Ven, adding that the firm had its largest ever presence at the show.

Meanwhile, the open source community was left to reflect on comments made by Sun Microsystems chairman Scott McNealy during a keynote speech in which he warned the region was being left behind in terms of open source usage. Although he said that the use of OSS was "creeping in", he called on regional governments to set the marker for its adoption.

At the DIC Pavilion, Google, exhibiting for the first time at the show, indicated its intention to ramp up its presence in the region and introduce more localised products.

"We are working on parallel opportunities and the result will be even more Arabic products in the near future," promised Yasmina Brihi, regional marketing manager at Google Middle East and North Africa. "We already have 15 products available in Arabic and so we have made great progress and there is a lot of emphasis on that," she said.

Additionally, Adobe unveiled its range of localised products at the show, including the Acrobat 9 family of products developed in Arabic by publishing partner WinSoft.

Day two also saw the official launch of a new software company headed by the former COO of 3i Infotech, Kalpesh Desai, called Agile Financial Technologies. The company, which offers solutions for the asset management and financial services sectors, used the show to elicit interest from prospective Gulf partners.

Also at the exhibition, Jordanian integrator Savvytek announced a contract to supply automotive dealer Transjordan with Oracle e-business solutions, while LaCie was among several hard drive firms, including Seagate and WD, to demonstrate its portfolio of consumer and professional data storage devices.

Day 3

Intel gave show visitors an exclusive glimpse at what the future of personal computing will look like by showcasing a research processor boasting a single, 80-core chip.

Given that today's PCs typically run on two and four-core chips, Intel's GCC boss Samir Al Schamma was adamant that the days when PC users can look forward to instant video communication, real-time speech recognition and multimedia data mining were just around the corner.

"Think how many digital photographs you will have stored on your PC a few years down the line. This type of processing power will offer pattern-matching capabilities to pick out specific images immediately and make tasks such as language translation instant," said Al Schamma, adding that commercially-modified versions of the ‘teraflop research chip' could be just five years away in the Middle East.

GULFCOMMSTelecoms giant Etisalat unveiled two major partnerships at the show in a bid to strengthen its enterprise credentials. It penned a deal with Avaya to provide end-to-end telephony solutions as part of a service offering subscribers benefits such as greater network mobility without having to purchase and manage their own networks.

It also teamed up with Microsoft to unveil Office Live Meeting, which makes it easier for organisations to use web conferencing through a managed services model.

Elsewhere, industry giant Potevio updated GULFCOMMS visitors on its product roadmap, while McAfee revealed research showing 50% of SMEs only spend an hour a week managing their IT security as it displayed its latest data protection solutions. Russian antivirus specialist Kaspersky used the show to highlight its mobile phone software.

"Most people are not really aware of security risks, they just think that mobile phones are a safe device," warned MEA virus lab head, Costin Raiu.

Meanwhile, Intel and Alcatel Lucent said they expected fourth-generation networks to become a reality in the Middle East before the second quarter of next year. "In some cases we're running trials and getting operators acquainted with the technology. In others we're bidding and making network agreements," revealed Alcatel Lucent VP, Mazen Hamadallah.

Samsung flew in some of its top executives from Korea as it wowed visitors with a new range of consumer hardware, including its Crystal Design monitors, which maximise the natural colour effects of materials through aesthetic design instead of using artificial colours.

With the Crystal Design monitors we have created a product line with key differentiators from the general industry in terms of display," declared Youngin Park, executive VP of Samsung's digital media business.

Following confirmation of the increase in government entities at the show came the news that networking and storage integrator ProTechnology was to develop a central wireless access network for the Ministry of Education. Up to 50 UAE-based schools could connect during the phased project, according to ProTechnology's wireless communications division boss, Lesley Anthony.

We are looking to work with resellers in the UAE, as well as from across the GCC region, who are experienced in the wireless field to help us better service local markets," he added.

Performance management software ace Hyperlink, now owned by Oracle, unveiled partnerships with HRSmart and Aareas, while IT solutions outfit Precise Trace outlined plans to begin targeting large end-user accounts in Saudi Arabia.

In the past we have been focusing on the mid-range customer, but the challenge is to attract the major players such as Aramco and STC Telecom," admitted Fawsi Alswaimil, executive director at the company. "We have managed to move to these major accounts in Saudi Arabia and their business relies a lot on the reliability of software from vendors like Oracle," he said.

Also in the software space, Microsoft Dynamics launched its AX 2009 business management solution, bringing in regional director Henk Bruinekreeft to do the honours. "We have more than doubled our business in the Middle East in the last three years and the biggest part of the growth we are seeing is coming from the Gulf and Saudi Arabia," he revealed. "In the coming three years we predict that we will more than double it again."

Day 4

Leading advocates of green IT initiatives called on the industry to set the standard for developing environmentally-friendly technology solutions. Hani Harik, CEO at systems integrator Emirates Computers, said it was the responsibility of IT companies in the region to set the agenda on green alternatives.

This is not something that you can calculate in two or three months - it could be two or three years before you see the ROI on a green initiative," he said. "But the reality is that businesses can spend a fraction of the money they are now and yet be more cost- and energy-efficient, as well as setting the example for others to follow."

With exhibitors such as 3M, Panasonic, Dell, NEC-Philips and Sharp all displaying energy-efficient products, the benefits of green computing proved to be a key theme of the show.

People can be vague when they talk about green computing initiatives so the industry must provide further guidance on what needs to be done to carry out the green vision," insisted Tarek Helmy, regional director for the Gulf and Middle East at cabling provider Nexans. "In the networking market it is important to educate customers on the necessity of solutions that achieve results without having to add extra capacity or increase power consumption."

Consumer electronics manufacturer Touchmate unveiled a brand new range of personalised notebook PCs depicting key Dubai landmarks to leave its footprint on the show, while Mindware and thin client specialist Wyse Computing detailed a new distribution partnership for the vendor's high-performance desktop appliances. The product, which has been created for the Citrix XenDesktop, is designed to reduce administration across a virtualised infrastructure.

AMD also unveiled one of its latest products - the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 - via partners Al Yousuf Digital and Matrix. Billed by AMD as the world's fastest graphics card, the vendor hinted that further product advancements were on their way.

We see a growing demand for products that offer greater visual experience with increased performance and multi-core capabilities from their desktop PC systems," said Abdallah Saqqa, acting general manager of the vendor's Middle East office.

Exhibitors not yet based in the Middle East also took the opportunity to use the show as a platform to further their regional ambitions. Russia-based business intelligence software firm Prognoz showcased its range of customised products and admitted it was looking at ways to extend its business here. "GITEX seems to be the starting point of Prognoz's presence in the Middle East.

If everything goes well and we feel the interest and potential demand for our products, we will definitely consider establishing an office in the UAE," confessed Sergey Shestakov, managing director for business development at the firm.

Day 5

Dubai Internet City had welcome news for IT companies looking to base operations in the region by revealing plans to extend the size of its campus by 25% during the next two years. The ICT cluster, which currently houses 1,200 companies, is working on a new development that will significantly expand the number of organisations it can host.

"This will accommodate the expansion plans of our major partners, while also providing office space for new companies coming to DIC," explained executive director Malek Sultan Al Malek.

One company talking up its future Middle East investment plans on day five was business solutions firm Hulul International. "We are in negotiations with several sales channels interested in taking our products to the market, and we are looking at the possibility of setting up a Dubai office," said Hisham Zaid, general manager at the company.

In the software arena, meanwhile, security ace Symantec unveiled its new information risk management (IRM) strategy, which included a range of products developed to help companies secure and manage unstructured information. Focus Softnet also took the opportunity to provide details of its ‘Focus i' mid-tier ERP system.

We are holding a series of roadshows around the region to formally introduce Focus i to our customers," revealed Sunil Mathew, VP of sales in the UAE. "By installing it organisations will be able to automate their financial and operational processes, and make better decisions by organising, analysing and reporting the data they generate."

Consumer ElectronicsThe battle of the big screen took place during GITEX Technology Week as the likes of Samsung and Panasonic rolled out their latest display models, the latter showcasing a 150-inch plasma TV. Panasonic remains a staunch supporter of plasma despite many rivals focusing on LCD offerings, although that wasn't the only thing on its mind as it lifted the lid on a new assortment of camcorders and Lumix SLR cameras.

Peripherals players Genius and Farassoo attracted accessory-hungry consumers by displaying a wide range of computer products, while Dubai-based distributor Computec released ‘Wind' - an ultra-portable notebook with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities.

Galtech Systems, meanwhile, was out to impress visitors with its Teatro media severs, which are tipped to revolutionise home entertainment by giving users a system that can store high levels of content. "Media centres are being used all over the world in a multitude of applications for domestic, commercial, education and leisure purposes," said boss Nabil Rayes.

Sky Electronics reinforced its position as one of the region's most innovative PC producers as it debuted the latest addition to its ‘Annihilator' high-end desktop family, available exclusively through retailer Sharaf DG. "The Annihilator 3 is the fastest gaming machine in the world and we've opted for a three-card, Nvidia SLI graphics system using Zotac GTX 280 AMD Edition graphics cards," explained Manoj Thacker, managing director at Sky.

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