I have been on vacation this week and found myself waxing
philosophic about how computing has evolved in our organizations over the years
and where computing is headed over the next five to ten years. I cant remember
exactly when he said it, but John Gages statement, The Network IS the
Computer, becomes more and more of a reality each day.
If you are old enough to remember the days before the PC,
you might recall a computing environment that was central to a particular
machine. Depending on the size of your organization, all of your computing
applications ran on this single machine or a few more like it. It was very
powerful, centrally controlled, andexcept for what some people would now deem
primitive word processing and calendaringwas focused on running core business
applications. Management of this type of system was pretty straightforward and
generally highly regimented.
When the PC revolution came along, it was responding to a
computing environment that had little time for the needs of the rest of the
organization or couldnt keep up with the demands of the core areas; people
found that they had a device on which they could do many of the things they had
always needed to dothey just had to get the data from the mainframe and
manipulate it. History has shown that this was, in fact, very empowering for
most organizations, but central IT was not quick to embrace the concept.
Soon afterwards, you had the advent of PC networking and
client-server computing, and it wasnt too long before many organizations had
competing computing infrastructures within their organizations: one mainframe-centric,
the other, client-server. The problem with client server was it was messy. It
tended to sprout up all over the organization, rather than being guided by a
central strategy; after all, it was part of the personal computer revolutionand
it suffered to some degree because of the way it was created and implemented,
rather than being centrally planned.
Then came the era of control.
Many organizations looked around and realized what a mess they had created.
Mind you, it was a productive mess, but not as productive as it could have
been. Magazines featured many articles and advertisements for products and
methods of getting one’s computing environment under control. This went on
for some time and then the Internet burst on to the scene.
When the Internet started to become more mainstream in the
late 80s, computing seemed to explode in organizations, and these messy networks
got bigger and biggerand more importantlycomplex. The Internet brought many
benefits but added security headaches. The difficulty of managing a network
increased due to viruses, worms, malware, bots, Trojans, and more.
The Internet phenomenon grew in the 90s and the world didn’t
end in 2000, thanks to the hard work
of IT professionals who did not panic under the pressure of tremendous hype.
At about this time, the browser-based application started to really hit the
forefront. Forget the fat client; lets have all of development be
browser-centric. And, for the most part, it has been a good thing. It is clear
that as the tools mature, we seem to be headed inexorably to a future in which
the majority of applications will be Web-based (see the success of eBAY, PayPal,
Google, and Salesforce.com, as examples) and connectivity is almost ubiquitous.
Now, with the potential for grid computing, which is defined
as a collection of low cost network, storage, computing and
software elements, lashed together to do work that historically required very
expensive dedicated proprietary technologies, we have an interesting
situation: ITs desire to reconsolidate in order to get things back under control by moving things back to a
centralized structure where applications are delivered rather
than run on the machines they are presented on brings us right back where
Depending on the maturity of organizations, I see a movement
that will pick up speed over the next few years in which companies will want to
further eliminate the complexities of their IT environment by having all their
applications, including the desktop, be delivered by an applications service
provider, or by going completely thin client and becoming an ASP themselves, or
a combination of both. Other than for gaming (and Im not so sure that the same
thing won’t happen there), people may one day wonder exactly what a PC was for in
the first place.