Folks, Don’t miss this one.
Make sure you catch the Joey Durel show on KPEL 105.1 FM this coming Thursday morning at 7:30. As I understand it Joey is going to interview Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Systems. As radio shows go this one’s got everything, digital divide, economic development, and the sheer sexiness of unfamiliar and hot technologies available ONLY to communities with ultra fast bandwidth.
Sun Systems gained fame as the developer of server systems during the early days of the internet’s commercialization. It sustained that fame with a leadership that has consistently consisted of men who are willing to think out of the box in radical ways.
Sun was an early proponent of the open software movement–before it was called that–and has recently made its own home-grown unix OS variant, solaris, pretty much open source. Open source material is 1) free, and 2) is open to being further developed and tweaked by anyone. For those of us who think that proprietary software is keeping computing expensive, bloated, and poorly designed the idea that a major player would offer up their materials, for free, for further develpment is vastly exciting.
Sun has been a consistent proponent of what is called “utility computing.” Utility computing operates on the idea that most processing time sits unused and wasted. Huge amounts of power sit idle. And all that capacity sitting idle is wasteful…and worse ridiculously expensive. The same is true of storage capacity. The solution: quit wasting money and capacity. Centralize or share processor time. Insert storage and processing power into the network. It makes both processing power and storage dirt cheap. The computers in people’s homes can be stripped down and cheap OR bulked up and costly but in either case costly programs can be provided for free or a cheap rental if run off the server’s liscense. Storage price for huge temporary files can drop toward zero. (Wanna shoot a video and massage it? Don’t want to buy some huge hard drives for a single project? Rent the capacity for a week for five bucks.) Sun’s version of this story has been pretty radical, even for my tastes–the computer hardware is anemic and not much use if not connected to the net. But with WalMart selling computers below 500 dollars and the price continuing to fall I’m not worried about hardware if the system we bargin for is not made into an exclusive for Sun and linked solely to the use of Sun’s hardware. (Linux could do most of this, not with Suns muscle or willingness to push hard to make its cherished ideas work, but Linux too is a unix variant….Sun might be easiest but this dream is shared by others…and we saw a call for a similar program in the digital divide document adopted by the council.)
Going this direction means big bandwidth internally to connect to processing power reasonably quickly and to make the storage fast enough to be useful. The fact that discussions are in play with Sun means that the bandwidth discussion taking place locally and that the pressure will be toward providing more rather than less bandwidth–at least internal to the system. (Real costs limit how much bandwidth we can afford when connecting to San Diego. Those costs don’t apply–or at least needn’t–when we are looking at internal bandwidth and connecting to local servers.
The digital divide implications are pretty obvious downstream. Sun makes some cheap, minimal equipment. Are we talking cheap enough for a business model like the cell phone model to be viable? Cheap hardware could conceivably made available as part of a contract committment. I sorta doubt it could be free. But, like fancy cell phones, the contract could drive the price of entry way down. Sub 100. Maybe. Someone will have to take a pencil to it.
The truth is, as Joey and Scott will no doubt agree, that almost all the pieces to do something really wonderful, cheap, and powerful have been in place for at least 5 years, maybe 8. All that is stopping an exciting deployment that drives speed through the roof and prices through the floor is the bandwidth bottleneck. There has been no place of sufficient size with sufficient bandwidth to put this in the market.
There will be soon. If we demonstrate our collective wisdom on July 16th. Vote Yes! For Fiber.
You think fiber is exciting? Just wait. This has barely begun. Real wireles: Fiber. Real bandwidth: Fiber. Real, shared processing power: Fiber. Unlimited storage: Fiber. Cheap, continuously refined, powerful open source software available to all for free or pennies: Fiber. We can live the dream here folks. It is in sight. It only takes a little courage and wilingness to believe in ourselves.