I was talking to a colleague at a major ISP earlier this year about where the Internet is heading – and chatting about the topic of security in the Year 2020 – a topic that I’ve been talking to the Great and the Good in the IT industry about this last few months to great effect.
And as you might expect, the topic swung over to comms (my other main technology interest outside of IT security) – and where the Internet and cloud computing will be at the end of the decade.
Every single person I’ve discussed this with over the last few months has predicted that the term cloud computing will not be around in the Year 2020, as the difference between a localised bricks-and-mortar data centre and a remote IT resource – aka the cloud – will become a lot more blurred than it is at present.
Underlying this change will be a distinct shift in the way we view – and use – the Internet within this timeframe. This change is already starting to happen, as technologies such as HTML5 start arriving on a growing number of Web sites.
I was, for example, expecting problems when I finally removed all elements of Adobe Flash from my day-to-day desktop PC a month back, but it seems that sites such as the BBC portal and other news sites have auto-detecting software in place, so when they cannot see Flash on my PC or tablet, they automatically engage HTML5 for a rich media experience.
HTML5 – the beginning of the Grid
But HTML5 is only the beginning of a multi-dimensional approach to rich media on the Grid.
The Grid? Yes, that’s the term I have picked up on for tomorrow’s Internet – and since I’ve been using the Net since 1986 (five years before Sir Tim invented the Web, or so I am told), I feel entitled to such flights of fancy.
The Grid itself, however, is changing. Just as Web content is changing – as witnessed by HTML5-enabled Web portals – so the underlying technology that brings the Internet to the user is changing.
BT is in the final stages of perfecting an auto-recovery system for copper cabling that will dramatically reduce the cost of installing FTTP (fibre to premises) – the next step up from FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) services typified by BT Infinity.
FTTP will bring Internet access speeds of 100s of megabits-per-second (Mbps) to homes and offices – and on a scale that the dial telephone started to bring to people a Century ago.
At the same time, BT – which has secured a useful licence for 4G services in the UK – will start to use 4G, fourth generation cellular, to deliver the Internet to rural users who are beyond the reach of cost-effective FTTP (or FTTC) services.
Put simply, the wireless Grid will bring speeds of 100 Mbps to even the most rural of crofters in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, delivering a wide variety of TV services – and TV-on-demand – that current services such as YouView can only hint at.
But wait, as they say, there is more. The Grid will herald a seachange in the kit that these FTTP and 4G Fixed Wireless delivery mechanisms connect to.
In place of a local switch or concentrator in to the 21CN (21st Century Network) that BT Wholesale has most of the UK connected to today, will be a softswitch – a black box that acts as a switching station on to the Internet proper.
That softswitch will do a lot more than route voice and data transmissions across the correct pathways – it will act as a local caching and repository data silo for the most frequently-accessed elements of the Web, as well as storing personalised multimedia files and the like, for its registered user at home or in the office.
This is perhaps best described as a local cloud, with data that can be replicated – on demand – to other local clouds as the user requires.
Each of these local clouds will be connected to other elements of the Grid by IP pathways at speeds of many terabits-per-second – and beyond – allowing intelligently routed and near-instantaneous transmissions of entire movies across the network, and on an on-demand basis.
If you are sat in a hotel in New York, for example, and work on a set of files normally stored on a switch that is local to your home or office, then the data access channels will be opened in real time.
If, on the other hand, you watch a copy of the latest Star Trek movie – which you have stored on your local switch – then the Grid will auto-seek another copy of the same movie on a local New York basis, and then present you with this, assuming it is available.
You, of course, will be unaware of such actions. To you, your data and files – your personal Grid – will be transparently available anywhere in the modern world that you travel to.
The Grid will also be constantly replicating your personal Grid to the portable device in your pocket – analogous to today’s smartphone – for use when you are off the Grid, for whatever reason.
Most of the time you won’t need this access, but the low cost of smartphone storage will mean the service will be transparently available to you – and devices you come into localised contact with – on a 24×7 basis.
If this all sounds far-fetched, you may recall that the first Apple iPhone was released six years ago last month, and the Apple iPad is around three years old.
But it is the Grid’s content that will change most of all.
Instead of being used to buying a DVD of the latest Star Trek movie, the content on the Grid will be accessible on a subscription or macro pay-as-you-go basis. Users will be asked to pay a daily or weekly rate for a given carnet of media, whilst the concept of buying the access rights to a movie in perpetuity will fade away.
Enter the CSP
Against this backdrop I suspect the importance of content and IT suppliers will also fade away, giving precedence to the new breed of combination cellco/telco/ISPs known as CSPs – Communication Service Providers – who will act as facilitators to the Grid.
At the Cloud World Forum in London last week, Martijn Blanken, managing director and president of Telstra Global, said that a modern communications reality of a new breed of borderless cloud services is about to take place.
In his presentation, Bishop said ICT is widely regarded as one of the key fuels that will drive the success of rapidly expanding businesses in the Asia Pacific and other emerging regions.
“CIOs are always looking to simplify their approach to ICT and a globally consistent approach to cloud, network and communications services is key to this,” he said.
“There is a dichotomy though. Whilst borderless cloud will simplify your business, they are anything but simple to establish and there are many challenges in implementing them. The complexity only increases as international borders are crossed,” he explained.
Citing research from the Asia Cloud Computing Association in 2012 illustrating that developed countries in the Asia Pacific score highest on the cloud readiness index, Bishop said that the data also shows that Japan has once again topped the rankings in the index, whilst countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia have dropped further behind.
“Bandwidth costs are much higher in Jakarta compared with Tokyo. Along with many different factors, this highlights the difficulties companies have operating in emerging compared with established markets,” he noted.
It’s not all wine and roses on the path to the Grid, however, as in parallel with the bandwidth constraints, the Telstra president told his audience that data ownership and custodian responsibilities, regulatory compliance, legal and contractual issues, information assurance, longevity of suppliers and business continuity are going to got a lot more difficult when you enter a borderless technology world.
Bishop went on to explain that a recent review, which Telstra had conducted across many of the leading global providers of cloud services, had revealed that supplier management is often complex – with different technological approaches in different locations affecting interoperability and service fulfilment.
“The future of borderless cloud will be delivered by providers that know the culture and markets they are dealing in and that have built logical interoperable networks from the ground up that utilize simple, consistent ICT infrastructure,” he said.
Bishop ended his presentation with the acknowledgment that the network must not be overlooked and that latency is also a key consideration given the even greater distances involved in international cloud operations.
Interesting stuff. And proof, I am pleased to say, that I am not turning into a futurist with my communications predictions for the end of the decade.
If, for example, you had shown me an iPhone 5 back in 2005, I would have probably have treated it as science fiction.
The same will almost certainly be true if someone today showed me the specifications for a mobile Grid terminal of 2021.
The real joy of this is that we are not talking about a revolution in communications – merely an evolution…