2008 InfoWorld CTO 25: John Bowden, Lifetime Products

Company's use of thin clients overseas tied to blade PCs at home ensures protection of key intellectual property

When Lifetime Products bought manufacturing plants in China and Mexico, CIO John Bowden's job suddenly turned into an epic adventure. He had to envision a novel IT design that crosses oceans and cultures, execute on it using truly frontier technology, and yet protect Lifetime's intellectual property developed at its Utah headquarters from global raiders.

Over the past year, Bowden has been piloting what he says is "the next generation of thin clients" for engineers at Lifetime, a maker of polyurethane tables, trailers, sheds, and basketball hoops. This calls for providing each engineer a thin client in China that has its own dedicated blade server in Utah. Data moves at ripping-fast speed over an MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) mesh network that Bowden (with the help of Sprint) installed a few years ago after Lifetime acquired the Chinese manufacturer.

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Over the past year, Bowden has been piloting what he says is "the next generation of thin clients " for engineers at Lifetime, a maker of polyurethane tables, trailers, sheds, and basketball hoops. This calls for providing each engineer a thin client in China that has its own dedicated blade server in Utah. Data moves at ripping-fast speed over an MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) mesh network that Bowden (with the help of Sprint) installed a few years ago after Lifetime acquired the Chinese manufacturer.

[ Discover what insights you can take advantage of from the other 2008 InfoWorld CTO 25 winners. ]

"Typical thin clients can't do engineering structure; the video is not strong enough," Bowden says. "But now we can put heavy-iron machines across long-distance lines that can act like they are here," thus keeping intellectual property at the Utah datacenter.

During the pilot stage, Dave Winter, vice president of engineering, told Bowden, "It works sweet." Now Bowden is heading off to the manufacturing plant in Mexico to introduce these thin clients to the engineers there.

Bowden has been coming up with newfangled projects every year. For instance, last year, he put in a state-of-the-art videoconferencing system so that overseas staff would feel like part of the Lifetime team.

Some guys are fearless at work -- and at play. So when Bowden isn't globe-trotting, he takes the edge off of his stressful job by flying airplanes and, recently, helicopters around the nearby Wasatch Mountains. "Helicopters are more of a challenge where you can fly backward and upside down," says Bowden, whose quiet demeanor belies a wild side. "It's actually very dangerous to control, like trying to keep a marble on a table."

Whether he's rolling out thin clients in Mexico or performing a pirouette with a helicopter, the soft-spoken Bowden keeps it all in perspective. "It's all a calculated risk," he says, adding as an afterthought, "I'm just trying to lead the charge."

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