That Aha! moment

Innovation starts with a great idea -- and then the hard work begins

You gotta love Greg Raleigh’s attitude. The man who invented the technology behind the forthcoming 802.11n Wi-Fi standard insists that solving problems is easy. The real challenge, he says, is “deciding what problems are interesting to solve.”

That mindset -- a quality of intellect, a pioneering spirit, and yes, maybe even a touch of arrogance -- typifies the classic innovator. Indeed, an iconoclastic streak runs through all 24 winners of InfoWorld’s Innovator 2005 awards. They also share a common experience: that Aha! moment when a tech problem -- and a possible solution -- comes into focus.

For Alasdair Rawsthorne, the lightning bolt of intuition struck when a flip-flopping CEO kept changing the underlying processors on a supercomputer Rawsthorne was helping to build. Why not create a virtualization layer, Rawsthorne reasoned, that would run software across multiple platforms without recompiling? More than a decade later, Rawsthorne’s fledgling company, Transitive, introduced QuickTransit Hardware Virtualization to do just that.

Similarly, Bill Cullen had his great moment of clarity when he realized it was possible to bring seamless fail-over to Sonic Software’s ESB by continuously replaying logs from one system on a second machine. What he’d conceived was “a backup system, in this case a messaging broker … [that] listens constantly to that event stream and is keeping in sync with the messaging system, even though it’s not doing the messaging itself.” Aha!

Vijay Manwani hit on his high-concept breakthrough when toiling away in the trenches as a sys admin. Recognizing that datacenter managers need practical tools to handle complex tasks across distributed, heterogeneous platforms, he came up with the idea of representing IT operations as a collection of virtual services. The result: Operations Manager, from BladeLogic, the company he co-founded.

Still, having a great idea, according to Raleigh, gets you only 3 percent of the way to your goal. To nail that last 97 percent, you have to set up a company and “recruit 120 engineers in a dozen different fields and get them to work together to bring a product to the marketplace.” Hey, we never said it was going to be easy.

Speaking of group efforts, let me put in an early plug for the annual InfoWorld 100 awards, celebrating “real-world IT projects that use technology in smart, innovative, creative ways to meet business and technical objectives.” If you know of a project that matches that lofty description, browse on over to our nomination form at The deadline for submissions is Sept. 16, 2005, and we’ll announce the winners in November. Aha! experiences encouraged, though not required.