Computing will become service ‘you buy by the drink’

Two industry leaders speaking last month at the Commonwealth of Virginia IT Symposium 2003 acclaimed Web services as the next big thing, despite the juggernaut of hardware and networking innovation.

“We forget how incredibly remarkable it is to see [processor] growth rates continue to drive innovation, maybe even faster than five or 10 years ago,” said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, general manager of IBM Corp.’s e-business on demand.

“The single transport mechanism—the IP backbone—was the single biggest, quietest shift that we never saw coming,” said Michael D. Capellas, chairman and chief executive officer of bankrupt carrier MCI and former chairman of Compaq Computer Corp.

Web services based on Extensible Markup Language, Linux and grid computing will succeed, Wladawsky-Berger said, only if “the infrastructure works flawlessly. It must cope with bursts, surges, outages and intrusions, and it must scale up to an open, integrated, autonomic, virtualized infrastructure.”

The infrastructure must get so good, he said, “that it can go deeper into business processes to handle rigorous competition, financial pressure and unpredictable threats.”

Business, he said, until now has had to adapt to rigid technology. Business users could do only what their particular systems allowed. But under a flexible infrastructure such as the Web, “they can go wherever the hell they want. Rigidity is giving way to flexibility.”

If Web services do succeed, he said, the technology “will integrate all resources around it,” forming what he called industry ecosystems somewhat like the industrial supply chains that already exist.

For example, he said, IBM buys about $40 billion worth of products and services each year, and all its suppliers must conduct transactions electronically.

“That saves IBM a few billion dollars a year,” Wladawsky-Berger said. “What works for one institution will work for multiple institutions. We will need more and more business expertise, because you’re always part of somebody else’s supply chain.

“As processes get virtualized, what are the critical processes? Every organization will have to decide whether to use a service or to conduct the process itself.”

Although Capellas also endorsed Web services, Linux and grid computing, he said mobile browsing could be an even bigger trend.

“Kids do instant messaging ceaselessly and mindlessly,” he said. “This is why mobile browsing will happen” via wireless peer networks that will arise over the next several years to handle video streaming.

“In five years, we will have continuous displacement by wireless broadband,” he said. “WiFi is underestimated. Other protocols won’t matter.”

Capellas dismissed the IP Version 6 transition as normal evolution and said Linux “has not cannibalized” Microsoft Windows as Linux proponents expected. “It has consolidated Unix, but it leaves Windows on the edge devices. It’s not a head-to-head clash.”

Meanwhile, he said, “data is changing and is becoming unstructured. We are digitizing absolutely everything.” With data centers becoming commodities based on Linux, blade servers and storage area networks, computing will turn into a service that “you buy by the drink.”

Everyone will have multiple electronic devices for interactive streaming, gaming and browsing, he said, “and we have to figure out how to add security to this stuff.”

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