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The Future of Technology: It's All History
Gartner Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit '08: Industry experts share insight on the future of information technology.
Posted Jun 12, 2008
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ORLANDO, FLA. -- History really does repeat itself -- even in the field of information technology. "When we talk about technology we usually give too little emphasis on the past because we see all new developments as without precedent, which is usually true in the area of IT," according to Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch and of the Harvard Business Review notorious article "IT Doesn't Matter." During a keynote presentation, Carr told audience members, those attending the Gartner Application Architecture Development and Integration (AADI) Summit as well as the Enterprise Architecture Summit, that looking at technology from a strategic and economic perspective, there are patterns that have played out in history. Cloud computing, although revolutionary by certain measures, is a transformation we have seen in the past.

Carr's historical example points to the 1851 invention of the water wheel. For manufacturers at the time, being able to supply power as well as deliver business was essential. A company that provided its own power in addition to selling services or good was the competitive winner in the second half of that decade. However, by 1901, with the creation of alternating current power grids to transfer electricity, use of the water grid became obsolete. Businesses relied on power from elsewhere and were free to invent, innovate and revolutionize the industry.

"Information technology, I believe, is going to be the next great business technology to go through a similar transformation," Carr maintains. "It is going from something that everyone assumed they had to do themselves and own -- in the case of data centers -- to something that is increasingly delivered as a utility service over a network, in this case, broadband Internet." 

Carr says the movement towards cloud computing is allowing users to think beyond the barriers of traditional IT. He points out that the biggest inefficiency in the IT field is in the labor line. Workers spend the majority of time doing maintenance. A shift towards the cloud would free up IT hands and lead to increased innovation, he says.

"If there were a way to take the assets and the people who do similar things from one company to the next and to share them, we could push down these expenses quite dramatically and free up that capital for companies to invest in much more productive uses in their main core business and innovation in that business," Carr says, propagating a core tenant of cloud computing. 

On that same theme of interactivity and connectivity, Andrew Lippman, keynote presenter and founding associate director of MIT's Media Laboratory, told attendees of the AADI conference that technology is shifting from an "I" to a "we." "A company's value is its social network. Its value is in the richness and speed in which ideas propagate through that company as an idea for social phenomenon," says Lippman. "That's what [service-oriented architecture] is all about. It's about building those structures that allow for the social propagation of ideas and embedding that into the design system and the architectures around its changing parts." Lippman contends the difference between what happens at work and what happens at home is disappearing. Both presenters pay tribute to the invention of the personal computer as democratizing technology and redefining and shaping the way business is done. 

"Up until now, there was an assumption that IT is in isolation -- with applications, data and as a result, isolated users," says Carr. "That isolation has been in direct conflict with business itself which is about sharing and consolidation." So, why is now the time for cloud computing to spread its wings? Carr notes that moving towards the cloud has been attempted for decades. As information moves at the speed of light, and consumers demand computing on the job to be on par with personal computing, utility computing will continue to build momentum.

Carr does note, however, that governance and control will arise as solid issues as adoption widens. He points out that data security, although viewed as a threat by many enterprises, boils down to trusting vendors. He continues by drawing CRM data as an example of sensitive data that has had a success story with the SaaS model.

During a question and answer segment with Carr, the question was posed if whether cloud computing will one day become extinct like technologies of the past -- especially with the rise of open-source models and peer-to-peer sharing. The author said no, reminding that utility computing is not an all-or-nothing deal. "My vision of the cloud is that it includes the device of the user, the cloud companies are building [and buying into],...software running on a local PC, [and] data stored on a PC. Coordinate those different resources and that will be the success we see in the future."

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