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... We Are All Inside the Machine
Loosely CoupledPhil Wainewright

The Internet will overwhelm enterprise computing, writes's Phil Wainewright

What could you achieve if you had access to all the world's computing resources? This is no longer an idle question. As I described in my previous column, ASPs — along with online services, B2B marketplaces and other Internet-age pioneers — are laying the foundations for a new era of computing. In that new era, every imaginable resource will be instantly available within an interconnected global infrastructure. See related article, When the Internet Becomes the Computer ..., Oct 5th 2000.

I summed up this trend by saying that computing is moving onto the Internet. Enterprises are moving their web servers out to Internet data centres. Applications are being outsourced to ASPs. Transactions are migrating to online supply chains and trading exchanges.

But of course the flipside is also true. Computing resources that stay put within enterprises are increasingly exposed to the external Internet. Not only is computing moving onto the Internet: The Internet itself is extending its reach into all computing.

The latest trends exacerbate the process. The newly-emerging concept of peer-to-peer (P2P) computing — exemplified by the music-sharing Napster and similar systems — invites the Internet in to share resources on individual computers, irrespective of their location or of whether their primary role is as servers or as clients.

Gradually the Internet is becoming a unified system that encompasses every computing asset in the world, whether it is located at an Internet data centre or on a user's desktop. Internet computing is no longer a separate entity that is out there, beyond the walls of our office or enterprise. We are all inside the machine, and every enterprise and user becomes a component within the Internet computing value chain.

Doomed to fail

The traditional response is to resist this creeping infiltration. Classic enterprise computing fences off the outside world as much as possible, closely controlling all points of access. But this 'Iron Curtain' strategy is as doomed to failure as was the former Soviet bloc. It runs directly counter to the commercial needs of the business to leave its operations cut off from all the resources and trading opportunities out there on the Internet.

In today's connected environment, customers are demanding online information and services; suppliers are building online supply chains and trading exchanges; employees need access to online resources.

Successful businesses in this new Internet economy are those who seize the opportunities opened up through easy access to new resources, partners and customers. Once we are all part of the Internet computing infrastructure, physical location and possession rapidly diminish in importance. Our assets are those resources we can easily deploy, irrespective of where they are or who they belong to. The only boundaries that exist are those we choose to impose on ourselves.

Most businesses handicap themselves by imposing boundaries of their own imagining, relying on instincts learnt in the enterprise-centric era of computing. They fence themselves off from opportunity by refusing to entrust commercial data and business processes to outsiders. Yet at the same time they overlook the extent to which their internal systems lay open to external security threats through their links to the wider Internet.

Instead of relying on inadequate and overwhelmed enterprise-centric computing architectures, businesses need a new, network-resident architecture that transcends individual enterprise systems. If companies are to operate successfully and securely within the Internet machine, they need to be able to open up their computing infrastructures to the outside world within a technological and commercial framework that still protects their intellectual and economic assets.

Creating that framework is the most complex and crucial of all the challenges facing the architects of Internet computing.

This the second of a series of weekly articles by founder and managing editor Phil Wainewright — appearing in the Analysis and ASP Basics sections of the website — that describe the emerging Internet computing landscape and its effects on businesses. The material is based on Internet Application Engines, a new special report available from our Premium Content section.

Phil Wainewright founded in 1998 and is the publisher of Loosely Coupled. He can be contacted at

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