Business computing in the year 2040

Peering 28 years into the future has more value than you may think -- if you start by considering what today's IT professionals lack to do their jobs effectively

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When you consider the trends and technologies today that have the best shot at reducing IT's biggest headaches, the future gets slightly less hazy than you might expect. Here's my best shot.

All cloud, all the time. The architecture of cloud computing is all about pooled resources and the advanced tools to manage them. The pioneers of that architecture happen to be today's cloud service providers. But will it matter who owns and operates a data center fabric that's fully automated, converged, and virtualized on a foundation of relentlessly commoditized compute, storage, and network infrastructure? The OpenStack and Open Compute initiatives come closest to suggesting that vision today, and if I live that long I won't be surprised to see them persist three decades from now.

Persistent identity, multiple Internets. I agree with Roger Grimes's argument that persistent user identification is the only real solution to our current security mess. So 28 years from now, this will mean everyone who logs on to the Internet will need to be positively identified, probably through some advanced biometric means. But some people may not have that means or find the end of anonymity repulsive. There will be at least one other Internet -- probably similar to the one we have today. Does that mean the evil forces who want to create a tiered Internet with different quality-of-service levels will have won? Probably. Will there be cyber wars between the Tier 2 and Tier 1 Internets? No doubt.

The converged future of applications. Persistent identification and voice UIs are going to change applications forever. Today it makes sense that you use an email app to send messages and an ERP system to generate financial reports. But with your confirmed identity and with cloud-based application integration, you should simply be able to tell your computer you need the last quarter's sales figures and compose a message to Mom in the next breath. Nonetheless, business applications will still be needed, mainly based on workflows unique to organizations. Authorized people will be able to create them on the fly. Yet I also think there will be a tremendous need for developers to create and improve aggregate applications -- and cloud architecture will make dev, test, and deploy vastly easier.

The big data revolution. Storage technology improvements coupled with cloud scalability will stay ahead of ravenous demand for inexpensive capacity. But what we do with that data represents the future promise of computing. The contemporary cliché "data is the new oil" is apt. Cheap computing power will enable us to derive enormous new value from crunching petabytes of data and metadata using distributed processing frameworks such as Hadoop (another technology that may persist 28 years from now). Creative new forms of data visualization will enable entirely new disciplines. And as IBM's Drew Clark told me in a recent interview, the value in the forthcoming explosion of sensor networks will be in the big data analytics that give the data collected by those networks meaning.

Of course, if persistent identity succeeds, this totally integrated, transparent, and hypercrunched future will also mean the complete and utter destruction of privacy. Oh well. Scott McNealy declared privacy dead years ago. But if we must all depend on public cloud service providers that are as inept as today's telecoms, god help us all.

I hope you've enjoyed my impersonation of a futurist. Take your own shot in the comments to this post.

This article, "Business computing in the year 2040," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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