Business Computing: Past, Present and Future

We can learn from the past. We can act in the present. We can speculate about the future. With the 20th anniversary of the world wide web only just behind us, the mainframe’s 45th anniversary two years ago, and the iPhone’s 5th anniversary coming up next year, a brief discussion on the past, present, and future of business computing seems appropriate. Mainframes, the Internet, the smart phone and many other inventions have influenced business computing architecture, operations, and usage profoundly and in many ways. A brief – subjective – timeline of business computing events, leading up to today is highlighted below:

1960 – A few companies own large integrated computing resources called mainframes. Mainframe capacity is shared by users. Terminals that access mainframes are dumb. There is no IT department.

1970 – As computing resources become more affordable, most businesses start operating their own private mainframes and minicomputers. Terminals are still dumb. IT departments emerge.

1980 – Over time, the large integrated mainframes split into computing layers of infrastructure, platform, and software. Computing intelligence proliferates to devices. Personal computing is introduced. Servers emerge. IT departments become larger and more decentralized.

1990 – As the running of these private layered computing resources becomes more complex and expensive, businesses start to outsource computing operations to third parties. IT departments continue to decentralize.

2000 – The Internet enables computing resources to be located off-premise and enables business users to access computing resources anywhere, anytime, and with any device. Businesses start to share datacenter infrastructure resources. IT departments are under pressure to deliver value to the business. eBusiness executives emerge that translate Internet capabilities into business value.

Today – With the help of virtualization technology, enabling more efficient usage of computing resources, and a faster and more pervasive (mobile) Internet, businesses start to share not only datacenter infrastructure, but also computing infrastructure, platforms, and software. IT departments are under pressure again. Business executives are now capable of ordering computing resources with the swipe of a credit card.

So much for a brief history of the past leading up to the present. But let’s speculate about the future. The METISfiles believes that computing will continue to evolve towards on-demand, virtual and automated architectures. We also believe that enterprises will continue to relinquish computing control, ownership and responsibility to third-party suppliers.

Based on that premise, here is a bold and short prediction of business computing in the next thirty years:

2020 – Infrastructure, platforms, and software merge into a single computing resource. Computing has become a utility. Business computing resources blur with consumer computing resources. Computing intelligence proliferates to sensors. The IT department is smaller and has evolved to a business architecture service desk. Business executives buy business process functions as a service, from ‘businessware’ providers underpinned by computing utility providers. Personal information devices for different functions are available in abundance.

2030 – The Internet of things is now a reality. Computing resources are now so powerful and small that private grids and computing become in vogue again. Big data fits on a single chip. The IT department has now merged with utility and operations. The InterCloud is a reality. Supply chains run fully automated. The service economy is now moving to an experience economy.

2040Singularity. Technological singularity refers to the emergence of greater-than human intelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such an intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of the singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which the future becomes difficult to understand or predict.

The picture painted above is just one likely scenario for the future of business computing for the next thirty years. In our four scenarios series we provide more detail on short term scenarios for the future of, amongst others, cloud computing, digital Europe and the social enterprise.

What is your take on the future of business computing? Let us know!

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  1. […] Currently, web-scale datacenter installations are reaping the benefits of SDN, and they are building their own SDN gear. Research institutions and service providers are testing commercial SDN in their research networks and in the WAN. In the short term SDN is all about agility and not about lowering CAPEX and OPEX. In the long term, SDN will be an important building block for the emerging InterCloud. […]