The Gildered Age

By Michael Schrage, CIO |  Networking

Buying a condo in the Cayman Islands from your living room in Cairo. Converting a car stuck in a Philadelphia traffic jam into a physics class at Caltech or a bay-window view of the North Sea into a three-dimensional Rio beachfront. Having dinner with your daughter at Dartmouth College -- and your wife at home in Massachusetts -- while sitting in an office in Sausalito overlooking San Francisco Bay. You've heard the bandwidth "fantasies" before. But there's nothing fantastic -- it will happen.

-George Gilder, Telecosm: How Infinite Bandwidth Will Revolutionize Our World (Free Press, Sept. 2000, $26)

Should Telecosm become the runaway business best-seller it deserves to be, its author, George Gilder, is sure to become the man most hated by CIOs worldwide. Why? Because CEOs, boards of directors and management committees will read this book, look twice at their IT architectures and start peppering their CIOs with questions about whether this Gilder fellow is right about infinite, unlimited bandwidth coming to define and characterize tomorrow's infostructures.

The overwhelming majority of CIOs -- who better have a firm and articulate grasp of Gilder's arguments -- will be reduced to giving one of two answers:

"No. I mean, the guy's brilliant, but he's a crackpot. He takes perfectly legitimate trends in technology -- which, by the way, I want you to know we're completely on top of -- and pushes them way beyond the point of absurdity. Here's why what we're doing now is the right thing."

or

"Well, yes, kind of, but it's not a good idea to confuse a clear view with a short distance. We're not getting free infinite bandwidth anytime within the next five years, OK?"

In other words, Gilder's telecosmic visions will make life a living hell for CIOs already struggling to align technology infrastructures with business goals. Less than 10 years ago, most Fortune 1000 companies could effectively manage telecom and IT as largely separate business entities. Tomorrow, says Gilder, enterprise computing will be both the spectral and fibrous subset of whatever (largely) dumb networks run the business. By many orders of magnitude, Gilder asserts, sheer, raw, unadulterated bandwidth overwhelmingly trumps intelligent processing in terms of enabling cost-effective computational performance. "This is the law of the telecosm," Gilder proclaims. "Use bandwidth to simplify everything else."

Ain't that a kick in the ASP? The network truly is the computer, but in ways unimagined by Sun Microsystems.

Conventional open systems interconnection networking standards and architectures are thus as anachronistic as Morse code. Gilder says the old model in which "a Brahmin class of engineers" presides "over the center of the system telling all of the Untouchable users what they can and cannot do" is about to be destroyed.

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