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The Data Location Cycle

There’s a cycle in computing that you may have heard about, it runs like this:
In the old days, we had big computers. You fed information in, waited, and then an answer came out. These computers stood alone, and took up entire rooms, if not entire floors, and the information was contained only in them.

Next, the terminal was invented. This allowed you to distribute the users of a central computer (called the Mainframe). From a small workstation you had access to everything in the big computer from elsewhere.

Then the PC arrived. It had more power than the original mainframes, and allowed people to do their own thing. So now the information was back inside the local computer.

When the internet came along, people hooked up their standalone PC’s. The Web Server was invented, and that acted like a Mainframe (although in practice it was often like just another PC). Now your information was remote again.

After this, came PDA’s and SmartPhones. Now information in your computer had to be synchronized so that it was in your hand. Thus, your PC was now acting like a server to your handheld device. The information was either local or remote.

Devices got so powerful, that Smartphones didn’t need the PC to sync to. After all, a modern Smartphone has a multi-core 1GHz processor and 64GB of RAM in it. Now all the information was local again, but in your hand.

To the cloud!
It was soon discovered that it would be a good idea to get all the information off your phone, and allow you to access anything from anywhere, so ‘cloud computing’ followed. Now, a spreadsheet could be created on your phone, edited on your computer and vice-versa. This is the reverse of the computer sync’ing with your PDA because now we’re trying to get info on both devices, but originating with the handheld device more often than the desktop.

What is happening with this cycle though is twofold:

  1. Increased mobility of both the devices and the information it holds.
  2. A pendulum is swinging back and forth between physically having all the information in the local device, or having all the information available remotely through another device.

If we know the current trend is to move local information to ‘the cloud’ (i.e. making it remote again), the question is this: if we know the pendulum is eventually going to swing back to “localised” devices, how is this going to happen given cloud computing services that are trying to host all your data remotely and sync it across all your devices?

The answer lies in the devices themselves, because what happens each time is that the computing paradigm changes. So far, we’ve seen this chain of events:

  • Feed physical cards with information into a huge machine and see physical cards or tape come out with the answer’s punched in them.
  • Type into a keyboard and see results come up on a monitor.
  • Pick up your phone and talk to an assistant like Siri.

The next generation
We are also seeing two new generations of devices appear in our near future:

  • Google Glasses that can be spoken to and worn.
  • Household appliances that communicate and program over the Internet.

These last two items are “touchless” in that while you physically interact with them in the course of a day, you don’t actually physically interact with a dedicated physical interface. Instead, you talk to them and sensors and autonomous routines just automate things based on state.

What all this leads to is a very simple way for large amounts of data to be generated. It is estimated that by 2018, most developed countries will find their citizens paying more for data services than they do for voice. So, the trend will be to try and reduce data costs by saving data locally.

When the pendulum swings back
Presently, only hardcore geeks have home servers and home networks. However, it’s likely that within five to ten years home server devices will be available. The purpose will be to gather information from all the mobile devices and computers in the home. This information will be analyzed, reported back and filtered for specific criteria, before it sync’s these filtered portions back to the cloud for distribution to other people. This way, certain images go to your Facebook account, all your precious private family photos are sync’ed to your online backup provider, your calendar is updated across all the devices in your family and work related items are sent to your office, etc.

Once this has taken hold, market forces will adapt to swing the pendulum back the other way (in order to make a buck), so we will be sending more stuff back to some evolved future version of ‘the cloud’ until such time as we stop because things are “going local” again. But of course, this is the nature of cycles.

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