Jamie Davis, Education and Product Manager

Back to the Future“Back to the Future.” As an oxymoron goes, that is one of my favorites. It is said that we study history to learn from the past. To examine past failures and successes and use that information- that knowledge gained- to make decisions for the future is the core reason history is taught from grade one to grade twelve. In “Back to the Future,” Michael J. Fox used a DeLorean as a time machine to time travel to the past and the future. He continually ran into the same issues no matter what time period he was in; there was always an ancestor of Biff who was Fox’s antithesis; it was as if the past continually repeated itself. Just look at today’s fashion, a couple of years ago, we were still making fun of the 70’s and 80’s fashion and now it is coming back into style. Let’s jump into Fox’s DeLorean and travel back to the past to see what the future has in store for us.

In the 60’s and 70’s, computing was done from a powerful centralized machine typically known as a mainframe. This device did all the computing while users would access this device from terminals located throughout the building. This setup was common because of the huge cost associated with the mainframe. It made fiscal sense for only large companies to own them, and then lease time to access these devices to smaller companies during nonpeak hours.

In the 80’s, the personal computer (PC) came along and changed this concept completely. For a reasonable price key employees could have a computer at their desk that was almost as powerful as the previous mainframe at a fraction of the cost. As companies realized the power of having every employee using a computer, these personal computers went from being placed at only a few employees’ desks to becoming the standard for all employees.  You would now be hard pressed to walk into a Fortune 500 company and find someone who doesn’t have a computer. The president through the cafeteria staff have computers for one reason or another.

This model of personal computing has now dominated the market for more than twenty years. The low price (relatively speaking) of personal computers along with the push to make them more and more powerful has been a successful model. But all good things must come to an end at some point. Now, let’s climb into the passenger seat of Fox’s DeLorean and move five years into the future.

Personal computers are so powerful now that most employees and organizations do not come anywhere near using the true capacity of their PCs, or servers in general. Companies are now beginning to realize that there are a lot of wasted resources in the IT infrastructure and are looking for ways to better utilize their investments. They are asking how they can use more than 10% of their personal computers and servers so that they spend less but use more of our machine’s resources. The answer lies in once again centralizing data on larger powerful machines and utilizing 70-75% of the machines’ resources and providing the end user with access (terminals) to these powerful machines. The positive side effects of this is that you use less electricity, spend less time upgrading software on each machine, and take less time troubleshooting issues on a hundred different machines. Everything is centralized and managed within a small group of machines. The other side effect is that the costs of housing these large storage and computing devices yourself can be overcome by the cost savings of turning the management of these devices over to someone else. Leasing machine power, just as companies did in the 60’s and 70’s, could be a very cost effective way to manage many of your IT functions. We have now come full circle and gone back to the future, if you will.

Think of the cost of associated with a server: software licenses, backups, electricity, cooling, hardware, patching, updating, warranties, management, security monitoring, antivirus, disaster recovery considerations, technical expertise, etc. There are several options now that could make this cheaper, less painful, and more manageable. You will most likely hear more about hosted services, cloud computing, and Software as a Service (SaaS) in the next year or more. Though these ideas may seem new; to a large degree, these ideas have been in use since the beginning of computing. These “new” solutions are just taking advantage of new technology to make technology faster, smarter, cheaper, and more efficient than it ever has been before. Going back to the future is something we do all the time. Now it’s time for the DeLorean to take technology there as well.

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