Hackers own today's free-love PC architecture, and it's time to move on
In his book, “Does IT Matter?” Nicholas Carr assumed that the PC-centric, client-server architecture was the zenith of Moore’s Law (which says the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years) and therefore an ever-cheaper commodity with no strategic value.
The emerging post-PC architecture not only proves his assumptions wrong but makes them look absurd given the magnitude of contrast. But much more important than poking Carr in the eye (however enjoyable that may be) is the urgent realization that we need to take a bold leap away from that legacy, PC-centric architecture.
For one thing, the hackers own it outright and prove that to us on a daily basis. Recently we learned of a data breach at payment processing firm Global Payments Security that exposed financial information of 1.5 million credit cardholders. Such news is a recurring nightmare given our reactive, patch-and-pray security model.
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The writing is clearly on the wall: Hackers own the current, hippie-designed, Pollyanna-inspired, free-love openness that is today’s PC architecture. Given that, any normal inertia against change should be ameliorated by the chance to bake in security at the beginning of a new architecture instead of as an afterthought.
Beyond the security benefits, the capabilities of the post-PC architecture will make advances such as Siri, Watson and Facebook look quaint by comparison.
The central components of this architecture are mobile devices, the cloud (or clouds), sensors and social networks. Of these components, mobile devices are the primary driver that is now drastically reshaping both the client and server sides of the architectural equation.
These changes will incorporate the drive toward “natural interfaces” such as gesture and voice. Not to be dismissed is the plethora of sensors (some of them inside those mobile devices) that can monitor, measure and signal every corner of the globe. From a sheer numbers perspective, the post-PC architecture is the realization of ubiquitous computing.
Accommodating these changes and enabling easy sharing between any type of client device requires a ubiquitous server solution that is ever-present, contextually aware and fast (regardless of load). Enter the cloud. Above and beyond the proliferation of hardware is a higher bar for software platforms that are smart and social by design, exhibit situational awareness, and leverage vast amounts of data.
To satisfy these requirements, the key characteristics of a post-PC architecture are scalability, semantics and security. Scalability is required for the cloud to serve the massive number of devices and sensors in near-real time. The cloud will allow device convergence and interoperability across every organization in ways that were never imaginable. And semantics will be the glue between each component in order to enable the devices to understand the whole and the part they play in it and to act appropriately in any situation.
That is what is meant by “situational awareness,” and to do this requires an understanding of localized context. For example, if I say to Siri, “Call my wife”, it understands that I am married, which contact in my address book represents my spouse, and which phone number I most often call her on.
I recommend everyone read the Siri patent to see how Semantic Web techniques are another key driver of the post-PC architecture. And with cloud scalability enabling greater semantics, both will create major breakthroughs in security.
Sensor, device and cloud components form a new type of multi-machine operating system that is now being designed. This multi-machine OS will be free to look beyond processor, memory and storage limitations toward robust, built-in solutions for identity (including biometrics), provenance, continuous monitoring and cradle-to-grave mandatory security.
So while there are many changes ahead in this post-PC era, the opportunity to forge a secure, scalable and semantic architecture will be well worth the price.
Michael C. Daconta (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president of advanced technology at InCadence Strategic Solutions and the former metadata program manager for the Department of Homeland Security. He is currently working on the second edition of his book, “Information as Product: How to Deliver the Right Information to the Right Person at the Right Time”.