% fortune -ae paul murphy

A comment from a backroom boy

Or, in this case, Gordon Haff on The New System Companies, via CMP's humbly named "thinkernet" blogs:

For the past 25 years or so, we've been living in an era of distributed computing during which computers have increasingly migrated from the 'glass house' of IT out to the workgroups, small offices, and desktops on the periphery. Even before Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) became early catalysts for this trend's exponential growth, computers had been dispersing to some degree for essentially the entire history of computing. The minicomputer and Unix revolutions were among the earlier waves headed in the same general direction.

In one sense, our current era is experiencing just another wave of the same. Let's call it the mobile wave, or the pervasive wave. Computers are everywhere, from cellphones to MP3 players and refrigerators. But there's a difference from the Wintel wave that ushered in truly widespread distributed computing.

Yes, today computers are ubiquitous, but they're increasingly devices for interacting with information generated and stored elsewhere. Or they're autonomous actors handling low-level tasks unbidden. In short, they're conceptually more like terminals -- albeit compact, sophisticated, mobile ones -- than the personal computers of the last wave that gave users full control over, not just some processing power, but also their data and when and how they connected and interacted with others. The intelligence is in the network or, more precisely, in the vast server back-end that feeds all these devices.

One face of the Internet's evolution may be the social application running on the cellphone. But the other is the mega-data-center pulling massive power from the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River. More and more cycles and more and more stored bits are moving online. Consumer services from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) to Flickr are in the vanguard, but software as a service, la Salesforce.com Inc. , is making steady inroads in business as well.

Haff is hardly a radical forward thinker and in fact it's my impression that he very carefully tailors his comments to his audience which gives this thing it's perceived value to me: because what he says about the network becoming the computer is old news, but what he signals: the acceptability of this message to his audience, isn't.

In other words what's important here isn't what he says but that he thinks his audience is ready to hear it.

Thus the fact that I think much of what he puts forward as an assumed foundation for the future is almost laughably wrong has nothing to do with the value of the article as signal. The net effect, for example, of the difference between his assumption that companies like google will continue running enormous warehouses full of x86 servers and my view that those will fairly quickly give way to a mere handful of CMT/SMP machines has exactly no effect on what I see as his implicit premise: that more and more senior managers are getting ready to accept the reality that the network has been the computer for some time now.

Bottom line: read this for what it is, not what it says, and you may begin to believe it signals some faint glimmering of light at the end of Microsoft's stiflingly monopolistic cost tunnel.


Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.