My father told me that no one foretold the Internet revolution in all of his decades of reading science fiction. The world was expected to have a single, giant computer that ran everything or held all of the world’s data. There was no expectation of a distributed world network without a central core until the “Snow Crash” or similar titles in the 1990s, after the Internet began to evolve in its dispersed, democratic model. Yet the rise of cloud computing is bringing back the old model. We are witnessing a centralization of all devices acting as stations connected to the one great mythical mainframe, “the cloud”. The old IT model is new again.
How specifically is old IT becoming new again?
- Software applications used to run on the mainframe accessed by users through a terminal. Then users received their own personal computers and ran applications locally. Virtualization and tools like CITRIX permit users to access their software applications through the server or through the “cloud” through any device. Back to the central computer model for running your software.
- Data was originally kept on the one large mainframe. Then it resided on the local machine. Now data is back to the cloud. Unlike software, where users may access different applications from different sources, data is literally back to the central mainframe. Large data centers like those at Google and Amazon hold data for millions of users and even corporations. A few, massive data centers store a lion’s share of the data.
- IT support has come full circle again. Computer usage used to require a doctorate in engineering. Then users with a college degree could get by but support required an advanced degree in computer science. Personal PCs allowed self-educated experts to diagnose and troubleshoot issues. However, the diversity of applications, devices and OS increases the complexity of problems. The democratization of creating small applications, blogs and graphic files has masked the tangled mess of software and IT infrastructure upon which the applications and Internet depend. While basic support has reached the level of the telemarketer, where someone following a script asks the user questions while pushing a few buttons described by the script, true troubleshooting requires technical skills relatively few individuals possess.