Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Java Authors: Liz McMillan, AppDynamics Blog, Kelly Murphy, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Java

Java: Article

The Death of Mediocrity

The Death of Mediocrity

Computers can generally be characterized into two types: ones that are designed to have more than one user attached and those intended for a single user. In the beginning almost all computing was done on large multi-user machines, partly due to their expense, which precluded their use to all but large institutions or wealthy corporations. Mainframes ruled this era and excelled at their role: providing a reliable computing platform for hosting databases, transaction servers, and centralized applications. The interaction was through character-based screens that, while providing fast and efficient green screen access, was to be their Achilles heel.

At the other end of the scale are personal computers. PCs have two major benefits over mainframes: a lower cost per unit and the ability to host operating systems with graphical user interfaces. GUI applications make use of event-driven user interfaces that can respond to fine-grained mouse, keyboard, timer and paint requests. This provides the framework on which everything from shoot-em up 3D games, WYSIWYG word processors, business presentations with embedded video, and a plethora of powerful desktop programs reside.

Most of the problems over the 20 years in IT have occurred because one of the two ends of the computing spectrum has tried to venture into the other's domain. PCs tried to become multi-user servers and big iron boxes attempted presentation logic.

The computing section of my local science museum has an exhibit showing black and white photographs from the 1970s with reel-to-reel tape drives, floor-standing disk platters, and wardrobe CPU units filling an operations room. Next to this is a display case with an Altair 8800, the sign teaching us how the smaller machine replaced the room-filling mainframe by matching its computing power at a cheaper cost. The analogy drawn is to that of the dinosaurs, where the large and inefficient behemoths couldn't cope with extreme climate change and died out while smaller and nimbler mammals arose to rule the world in their place.

The rise of PCs is a huge phenomenon where, for most of the 1980s and 1990s, there were more new PCs sold per year than the entire installed base. The prediction by George Moore in 1965 was that the transistor density of semiconductor chips would double every 18 months. This largely held true for the next 40 years, benefiting PCs that continued to double in speed while halving in cost. For those who were in the game of downsizing from mainframes, this enabled them to create server farms by simply daisy-chaining PCs together.

The big iron server guys have always wanted to challenge the rise in PCs, fueled by resentment at the insults of "dumb screen" and "legacy system" that were being thrown at them. The Intern et gave them an opportunity to do this, by enabling them to reinvent themselves as hosts for Web application servers dishing up HTML to clients in place of 3270 or 5250 datastreams.

What has occurred is that PCs have scaled up to become servers and servers have become controllers of presentation through HTML. Both are poor compromises and I think have hurt usability, resilience, and general IT efficiency. The trend in many social systems can be characterized as a pendulum that swings between two extremes, politics being a prime example - once policies become attempted, they fall short of promise and expectations, allowing the previous failed polemic to regain popular traction.

For the fast, nimble PCs that now fill rooms, their fate, ironically, is to be replaced with smaller and faster modern mainframes that outperform them in terms of speed, price, and simplicity. Because of advanced workload management techniques, mainframes can be driven harder, often running at 70-90% utilization, while Wintel boxes typically only manage 5%. While Moore's law held fast for the past 40 years, the runway has run out, as physical laws governing thermal flux prevent any further significant miniaturization. A modern Pentium consumes 100 watts of power and generates more heat per square inch than exists inside a nuclear power station's reactor core. The scalability of a virtualized mainframe is huge, with benchmarks showing that up to 20,000 copies of Linux all running Web servers can co-exist happily inside a single box.

For the PC, what we're seeing now is a growth in applications that exploit its capabilities as a first-class client desktop, rather than a rendering engine for dumb HTML. For Google, the bastion of all things Web, two of their most impressive applications are Google Desktop, which indexes all of a PC's files and provides a set of integrated functions such as chat, to-do lists, phone clients, and for mapping Google Earth offers the ability to walk the earth in 3D making use of the PC's native graphics functionality through DirectX.

What this should spell is a new era in which the two poles of computing go back to basics and rediscover what they're best at is doing what they were designed for. Big multi-user servers will continue to grow in terms of their capacity to become application hosting giants, while PCs will enjoy a period of rich applications that fully exploit their graphics capabilities and provide a high-usability end point. Over the past 20 years the server and the client have fought wars where each has tried to replace the other. What we need for the next 20 is for each to excel at what they're best at, and for users to benefit from faster, easier, and richer software.

More Stories By Joe Winchester

Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Wearable devices have come of age. The primary applications of wearables so far have been "the Quantified Self" or the tracking of one's fitness and health status. We propose the evolution of wearables into social and emotional communication devices. Our BE(tm) sensor uses light to visualize the skin conductance response. Our sensors are very inexpensive and can be massively distributed to audiences or groups of any size, in order to gauge reactions to performances, video, or any kind of presentation. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Jocelyn Scheirer, CEO & Founder of Bionolux, will discuss ho...
The true value of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies not just in the data, but through the services that protect the data, perform the analysis and present findings in a usable way. With many IoT elements rooted in traditional IT components, Big Data and IoT isn’t just a play for enterprise. In fact, the IoT presents SMBs with the prospect of launching entirely new activities and exploring innovative areas. CompTIA research identifies several areas where IoT is expected to have the greatest impact.
Can call centers hang up the phones for good? Intuitive Solutions did. WebRTC enabled this contact center provider to eliminate antiquated telephony and desktop phone infrastructure with a pure web-based solution, allowing them to expand beyond brick-and-mortar confines to a home-based agent model. It also ensured scalability and better service for customers, including MUY! Companies, one of the country's largest franchise restaurant companies with 232 Pizza Hut locations. This is one example of WebRTC adoption today, but the potential is limitless when powered by IoT.
Every day we read jaw-dropping stats on the explosion of data. We allocate significant resources to harness and better understand it. We build businesses around it. But we’ve only just begun. For big payoffs in Big Data, CIOs are turning to cognitive computing. Cognitive computing’s ability to securely extract insights, understand natural language, and get smarter each time it’s used is the next, logical step for Big Data.
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises are using some form of XaaS – software, platform, and infrastructure as a service.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo, June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be
Container frameworks, such as Docker, provide a variety of benefits, including density of deployment across infrastructure, convenience for application developers to push updates with low operational hand-holding, and a fairly well-defined deployment workflow that can be orchestrated. Container frameworks also enable a DevOps approach to application development by cleanly separating concerns between operations and development teams. But running multi-container, multi-server apps with containers is very hard. You have to learn five new and different technologies and best practices (libswarm, sy...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DragonGlass, an enterprise search platform, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. After eleven years of designing and building custom applications, OpenCrowd has launched DragonGlass, a cloud-based platform that enables the development of search-based applications. These are a new breed of applications that utilize a search index as their backbone for data retrieval. They can easily adapt to new data sets and provide access to both structured and unstruc...
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that the "First Containers & Microservices Conference" will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. The “Second Containers & Microservices Conference” will take place November 3-5, 2015, at Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities.