Posted by: Christian Verstraete | May 2, 2010

Is the Network the next bottleneck

A number of events and conversations got me thinking about how enterprises and their employees act with IT, now and in the future. These days, we all have our laptops, this brick of weight we carry in pour hand luggage and that we need to take out at each airport. But things seem to be changing. If we believe the hype, the business logic will move to the cloud and be available ubiquitously at our fingertips.

Apple launched the iPAD, a strange device that looks like a gigantic phone, but seems a window to the internet. HP bought Palm, but it seems it is not to get into the smart phone space, but to have an operating system for a variety of mobile devices. I was talking to a client last week. He started discussing the implications of GEN-Y entering the workforce. That generation is always connected, uses a variety of devices to interact with friends and their environment. According to my customer, they expect the same in their work life. So, combining intuitive and simple devices with the cloud should do it, isn’t it?

HP is for example working on the development of flexible, solar powered wrist displays for soldiers in war. Could we imagine in a couple years our parcels deliverer receiving his instructions directly on his wrist and asking you to sign it off right there and then? Would simplify everything, isn’t it?

Assume you have large construction equipment and one needs fixing. The engineer that arrives picks up a tablet or slate and receives instructions on how to fix the engine right there, in the middle of nowhere, with sound, video and everything. No need for hefty manuals or anything else. Great, isn’t it?

The cloud infrastructure to support such scenario’s is there, the first useful devices are appearing, but what about the network?

The current Telco’s are rather greedy as far as cost and actual speed of bandwidth. Uploading and downloading large amount of data (e.g. for videos) is still expensive. And in many countries the 3G service, the minimum required to do the things described above, is still spotty. On top of that the cost of transferring data in and out of the cloud is more expensive than hiring the compute power. And to finish, actual download speeds are low, making the download of reasonable video images a painful experience. One of the possible solutions is called WiMAX, unfortunately, the telephone companies are pushing back on its proliferation to gain maximum benefits of their 3G licences.

To allow this vision of simple human interfaces tapping in the cloud to perform jobs such as the ones we described earlier, a completely new wireless network approach is necessary and that one is not being implemented at the moment. We have both ends of the spectrum (the devices and the back-end capabilities), we miss the network in the middle. I believe it will unfortunately take years for these to appear.

The second issue is related to standards, and in particular standards allowing all devices to access the back-end interface in a similar manner. And here the battle between Apple and Adobe takes its full place. Apple, by refusing Flash, is trying to maintain full control of its development environment. And the upcoming HTML 5 norm will most probably not change that, as Apple, throughout its history, has been maintaining a proprietary approach. In doing so, they slow down the vision they create with their gadgets.

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