Category Archives: Technology future

Why Cloud Computing Is Happening Now

Sometimes things just happen. But rarely do they happen without many antecedents. And rarely do we see the antecedents until after they happen.

I believe that Cloud Computing has followed this pattern. The obvious antecedents are Moore’s Law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law), the rapid drop in disk prices, the proliferation of virtualization, and the emergence of large, efficient datacenters. Much has been made of all of these factors.

One that isn’t mentioned is the network capacity required to move vast quantities of bandwidth required to move the huge amounts of data from customers to datacenters and between datacenters. The networks have a long lead time to install. And require vast sums of money. Think about digging very long trenches and laying fiber optic cables between cities. And then each of the cities need to be hooked up with fiber. This is outrageously expensive, especially when you consider that rights of way and approvals need to be acquired, etc.

Given that the lead time for installing these networks was decades and we didn’t know that cloud computing was going to be a key application, how did these networks get installed to be there when we needed them?

I think the best answer is bad business decisions. Wait … did I just say that? Cloud computing is a key technology for the future, so how can it be a bad business decision? At the time vast quantities of network infrastructure we being put in, the Internet was in its infancy and doubling in size every 90 days. Companies (like WorldCom, Global Crossing, and MCI) decided to install capacity at a fever pace. And then the bubble burst in 2001 and the companies had a ton of stranded capacity and many went out of business. But the capacity remained, and at lower cost basis when acquired out of bankruptcy. Sometimes decisions made for one reason in one era have massively positive consequences in another.

The changing nature of communication

In my lifetime, I have witnessed the transformation of communication. When my grandparents were born, electronic communication meant telegrams. A couple of generations earlier, sending a letter from new York to san Francisco required writing a letter, getting it on a ship, and having it sail around South America, taking months. In rapid succession, we deployed railroads, telephones, highways/cars, airlines, data networks, and the Internet. The result is we can now send the same information that required months in less than the blink of an eye.

But, one aspect of this communication remained the same – you needed to know who you were communicating with and their address.

In the last few years, this has all changed! We can now communicate, individually or to a group, with people who we don’t know. The rise of social networks allows people to find others that they don’t know, but with whom they share an interest – around the world! This has changed the definition of community. And the definition of “friend.”

I think it will take many years to understand all of the impacts of this profound change in communication.

At the tip of the iceberg, we see the revolts in the Arab world in North Africa, where dissenters used Facebook to organize and communicate.

I saw the precursor of this in Eastern Europe and Russia (actually the Soviet Union) in the late 1980s. When visiting frequently on business, some of my colleagues would ask me to bring blank video tapes (pre-recorded video tapes were seized on entry!). I didn’t understand this at first, until I was taken to a “secret” video exchange market, where you would bring a blank video tape and pay some money to get a current-run Western movie. It gave the populace the ability to see Western culture, values, etc. I believe it was a contributing factor in the changes that later swept that part of the world. The Internet and Facebook is a much more potent force for knowledge, freedom, and understanding.

We live in a time of sweeping change.

Technology & Revolution

I admire Thomas Friedman’s intellect. In today’s NYT, he wrote a particularly insightful analysis about the events in Egypt and the Middle East, called China, Twitter and 20-Year-Olds vs. the Pyramids (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/opinion/06friedman.html). Like in many of the revolutions that swept Eastern Europe, there is clearly a link between modern communication technologies that were spawned by the Internet and the ability of people to quickly gather around key societal issues. This was one of the original promises of the Internet. Like with many technologies, we often overestimate their progress and impact in the next two years, but underestimate their impact in ten years.

Social networks are one of the first communication media that allow like-minded people to communicate without knowing each other. In the past, you had to at least know someone’s address (physical or virtual) to send them a message. This is no longer true and the vast societal impacts of this will reverberate for decades. I saw this first hand when I was in charge of AT&T’s communication businesses in Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s (even having the good fortune to be in Berlin on the day the Wall was opened.) Even then people realized that communication was a necessary ingredient for change.

But Tom takes this a step further. He points out that “the whole Asian-led developing world’s rising consumption of meat, corn, sugar, wheat and oil certainly is” fueling the revolts in the Middle East. What a fabulous insight about the interconnected global economy! Couple that with an increasingly educated and aware population of 20-year-olds who can now easily communicate their frustrations and gather on social networks – that’s fuel for change. Especially in societies where there are a great many of what Tom calls “the educated unemployables” that have college degrees on paper but really don’t have the skills to make them globally competitive.

It is axiomatic that most new technologies are generational. It is not surprising that the aging autocratic leaders of the Middle East (and elsewhere) at best have a limited understanding and therefore underestimate the impact of Twitter, etc. While those of us in the technology field know that none of these are revolutionary technologies per se, the societal impacts wrought by the wide-spread adoption of them are!