It has been thirty-one years since the first Computer Chronicles show, and that first show depicted many interesting things that were not considered new at the time. Today, we find them new and interesting, or more to the point, improved such that they are usable in ways only dreamed of then. Computer Chronicles discussed touchscreens, the importance of software over hardware, and telcos as a major source of networking. Today, we have touchscreens on EUC devices, hypervisors, and high-speed bandwidth. I wonder, would the producers of Computer Chronicles consider what we are doing today new, or just improvements on the technology of the 1970s and early ’80s?
Rewatching these old Computer Chronicles episodes kept causing me to think that things are the same, but that there are new ways to use older paradigms. We’re constantly hearing about disruption and disruptors, as if these are novel and new. Computer Chronicles has shown the same kinds of disruptions from thirty-odd years ago.
This brings me to the question: Is modern computing really disruptive? Why do I ask this? Did the introduction of the hypervisor really change what we were doing? Or was it a new tool that we learned and began to use within the data center? Calling something a tool means we think it is something that makes life easier, and that’s a useful insight. James Burke’s program Connections was a contemporary of Computer Chronicles, and he shows the interconnection between tools, making things easier, and progress in general. One of his classic examples came at a computer conference, where he explained the chain of connections from a simple flint axe to then-modern computing. While we have faster, better tools, have our lives really changed all that much?
With regard to our current subject, there are two sides to consider: the consumer and the data center. Have consumers’ lives changed? Of course, we now have one more tool that speeds up our daily lives. And this tool lets us do more without being physically in our offices or homes: we can take calls, answer email, and more wherever we are. Our productivity has skyrocketed. What about the data center? Some things have changed, but the tools allow us to run our systems faster and denser than before on less hardware. Well, it was less hardware when we started, but now it is more. As we grow our requirements and users, we grow our data centers.
History shows us that this is not something new, but instead it is a very improved version of something old—a new form of something we have known about and have done before.
We have been using containers since the 1970s. Granted, not in the form they are in now. We have seen containers as chroot jails, which Docker improves upon. We have had containers that contain not only libraries, but also kernels, drivers, etc. We call those virtual machines. Containerization has been a major tool for security practitioners for years. We now have sandboxes, wrappers around less-secure binaries, and even proxy servers of all types. All of these place a container around a service, operating system, or set of libraries. With an Intel-VT instruction set, we can now do this faster and easier within the processor without worrying about software. Software manages these containers, and that management is what makes all this happen. We have had unmanaged containers for years; now we have managed containers. The future looks even more interesting as we move further into the land of containers.
Converged infrastructures are really the ultimate in containers. We now have one box or set of components within a well-defined package. That package could be seen as a container of containers. When you add Docker on top of VMs on top of converged and hyperconverged infrastructures, you have containers within containers within containers. Ravello software even adds more containerization to the mix.
Containers are not new. What we do with them, however, allows us to rethink how we develop, network, and secure environments. We can move all of these closer to the actual service and data within the environment.
Touchscreens have been around for quite a long time, but gesture computing was limited to just pointing. Now, we have all sorts of supported gestures. Again, we are reinventing what is really an old concept—older than computing by far. Humans gesture by default. We use body language, hand movements, and facial expressions to aid in communication. How better to interact with computers than with something that is ultimately human? The human machine interface is becoming more natural than it has ever been. Is what we have now impressive? Yes it is, but it is built upon quite a few improvements in what was already known from graphics, natural language processing, edge detection, motion detection, and more. All these little changes help make our machine interactions as natural as possible.
What Is Old Is New; What Is New Is Old
Imagine a sine wave from a point where hardware is most important to where software is most important. Along each sine wave is a point where both are equally important. Currently, we are a little closer to the hardware end of that wave—we are once more in the realm of needing to pay more attention to hardware than we did in the past. Not a lot, but just enough to be noticeable. To use the newest software, such as VMware VSAN or NVIDIA GRID vGPUs, you need to get the proper hardware. However, what brought on this need was improvements in the software.
What is disruptive is not really disruptive unless you think it is. I would say that most disruptive technologies make you think about your business processes differently. Sometimes there is no change, but your mindset has changed.
Since 1983 and the first Computer Chronicles, our mindset has definitely changed, improved, and become more complex at the same time. We have embraced computing in ways only dreamed of at the time.