Cloud Source
Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Do you mean 

The future of IT. 5 waves transforming our environment.

on ‎07-17-2013 11:34 PM

Wave.pngA couple days ago I was asked to prepare a presentation for a customer meeting. The subject, well simply put, what is the future of IT over the next 10 years. Unfortunately, I just finished the preparing the presentation using excellent material from my friend John Manley, when I heard the meeting was canceled. Well these things happen. But on the positive side, now I have material for one or a couple blog posts.


Also, my last blog post on SoMoClo and the future of cloud made quite some steer, so it’s probably good I spend some time describing how I see cloud evolving. I’m not trying to frame a word here for the next wave, just want to describe how I see things evolve.


So, let me start discussing the evolution of IT in this blog post. We’ll highlight some of the technical enablers in a next post. So let’s start. I’ll use the wave diagrams originally made famous by Joel Birnbaum, former head of HPLabs. I saw this slide for the first time in the early 90’s when Joel started to speak about pervasive computing. Let’s combine the first three waves of his diagram for the stake of the argument and let’s add another two after what Joel came up with.

That gives us, once again, 5 waves I’d like to present to you.


Wave 1: The Net

Through the mainframe, the mini, the micro and the personal computing, IT fundamentally learned two things, connectivity and the need for integration. I still remember the day when we had a mail system allowing us to get a response from our divisions in the US within three working days. That was absolutely unheard of in the early 80’s.

Through interconnected mini computers (using a technology called HP’s Satellite Communication System) we were able to send files from one satellite computer to another under the supervision of the master node. A network was created allowing those computers to interact. But that net was proprietary and as a result unable to talk to other networks.


A number of protocols got created.  They had names such as SNA, DECNet, X.25, MAP in the factory, etc. The arrival of the Personal Computers in the 80’s put more emphasis on the network and how the computers would interact with each other. The standardization of Ethernet (IEEE 802.3) in 1985 facilitated communications between the systems. It provided ubiquitous, uniform access to devices.


I still remember my first project, in 1981, the development of a pipeline monitoring system using 5 mini computers linked through leased lines, complemented by a number of HP 85 portable computers interfacing through acoustic couplers. Both the mini computers and the portable ones were linked to measurement equipment. If you think about it, the net gave you quite some opportunities to integrate a variety of devices, but the need for standardization became obvious as companies struggled to use heterogeneous equipment.


Wave 2: The Web

One initiative would be at the start of the next wave. In 1969, ARPANET was created, funded by DARPA. It was another net with its own protocols and control layers. The idea of the internet started in the early 1970’s with the concept of the integration of multiple, independent networks (Internetworking Architecture), but a new protocol was required for this to work, which lead to TCP/IP, the first key component of the internet. The networks grew, mainly in the university and scientific communities. In 1990, ARPANET was decommissioned; the term internet was unanimously adopted in 1995, year that also saw its commercialization. The World Wide Web, interlinking documents through hyperlinks, was developed in 1989 at CERN followed with the definition of HTML in 1990. That was the second key component. And finally, Mosaic, the first web browser was developed in 1993 and formed the third component. The rest is history.


The Web provides us ubiquitous and uniform access to information and changed the way we do many things.


Wave 3: The Cloud

The web allows us to access information sitting in infrastructure located somewhere. We don’t really know where, nor do we care. If we go back to Joel Birnbaum’s wave diagram, we are now at the “internet computing” stage. So, it became quickly natural for companies to offer their spare capacity to others. Amazon was one of the first to do that as they required large capacity to manage peak seasonal load. This is how “cloud computing” got born. We all know it’s called cloud because the internet was often shown as a cloud in the diagrams.


In parallel with the developments I described above, application service providers (ASP) got created as an evolution to the service bureaus that existed since the 1960’s. The objective of the ASP was to deliver software functionality to companies using an “on-demand” model where the users would only pay for what they consumed. The coming together of the ASP model, the cloud and key concepts called multi-tenancy and self-provisioning lead to the creation of SaaS (Software as a Service).


This brings with it the next paradigm shift. Rather than being focused on the infrastructure that delivers the functionality requested, the user now consumes services (those can be infrastructure, platform or software). Cloud provides ubiquitous and uniform access to services. It resulted in the creation of new roles in the industry. Resource providers, service providers, brokers, aggregators and traders all participate in the “supply chain” delivering services to the end-users.


Here is where we are today. What is next? Well, we now get information (and loads of them if we believe IDC’s Digital Universe study), but we are like a brain without senses. We only have access to information that is posted on the web.


Wave 4: The CeNSEr

The next wave is where big data and cloud converge. It looks at exploiting data for us to see, hear, taste, touch and maybe smell. It comprises two types of data, on the one end, social information addressing the sentiment of humans and on the other the “internet of things”. The interaction between the user and the environment he/she researches will take a whole different dimension. We will get ubiquitous and uniform access to the real world. Sensors are popping up all over the world, being it to track wildlife, for security or access control, for geographical mapping, to monitor infrastructure health, home automation & security, traffic conditions etc. We will end up with billions of them in what we call CeNSE (The Central Nervous System of the Earth) at HPLabs.


To get real world access, we first need to get the real-time data of the individual sensors. Through successive stages of transmission, consolidation and transformation, the data is transformed into useful information. The same sensor data may end-up included in multiple information streams. And this is where big data comes in. The information generated from the sensor data is now analyzed and serves as a basis for industry specific analysis delivering the user with an understandable view of the real world.


The amount of data generated by billions of sensors will force us to develop new storage and compute technologies to address the analysis needs.


Combining this human information (social media and news primarily) with the sensor information gives us a unique view of our environment, combining the “objective” sensor data with the “subjective” human one, allowing us to understand the world we are living in.


Wave 5: The Actor

The CeNSEr can sense the state of the world, but it can’t change it. Sensing needs to be augmented with actuation. The actor changes the state of the world, closing the loop. Early versions of this vision are being tested out today. Think about the driverless car; think about smart sensors and how they can be used to improve energy efficiency. We will need new technologies to store and analyze such amount of data. We also have to learn a new vocabulary to represent the share size of the data. Do you know what a  yottabyte, a brontobyte or a gegobyte are?


You probably feel I’m dreaming by combining sensing and actuation. But let’s look at the driverless car prototypes that are currently being tested, they combine sensors and actuators. Also think about the smart metering initiatives looking to reduce energy consumption.



Our world is increasingly becoming digital. That changes the way we collaborate with others and interact with our environment. It is a fantastic evolution for information technology, and, the world is wide open for the ones amongst others that want to be creative and innovative. The further integration of IT in everything we do may result in the IT function to disappear, not because it is no longer needed, but because it is embedded in everything we do. We should be ready for such innovation. Remember what Alvin Toffler said more than 25 years ago: “Enterprise will be ready to jeopardize their base premises or they will become exhibits in the museum of corporate dinosaurs.” Frankly, I do not want to become a dinosaur.

About the Author


Nov 29 - Dec 1
Discover 2016 London
Learn how to thrive in a world of digital transformation at our biggest event of the year, Discover 2016 London, November 29 - December 1.
Read more
Each Month in 2016
Software Expert Days - 2016
Join us online to talk directly with our Software experts during online Expert Days. Find information here about past, current, and upcoming Expert Da...
Read more
View all