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Bill Bennett


Tag: Information Technology

Sometimes just IT. Not a fashionable term these days.

Passing peak-BYOD

Support for workers adding their own devices to company networks declined in New Zealand over the past year according to research commissioned by Unisys. The same report said there is now more support for company-owned phones and tablets.

You could interpret this as meaning bring-your-own-device was nothing more than a passing fad. That’s possible. However, there’s something more complicated going on.

A generation ago people lugged desktop computers into their offices so they could work better. There was even an early Apple advertisement showing this happening with the original Macintosh. And they were not easily portable.

Bring your own problems

In many cases those workers sneaked computers into the building without the approval or knowledge of the company’s IT department. Pretty soon departments were spending their budgets on small computers and before long were asking for IT support.

In other words, it took a grass-roots revolution to put PCs on office desks. And that’s what’s happening with mobile devices.

People at the coal face often have a better idea of how they can work productively than their CIOs and managers. Some of them took the initiative and brought their own kit to the workplace. It happened in the 1980s and is happening again today.

We’re seeing another grass-roots revolution.

BYOD channels grass-roots

From a management point of view BYOD is about channeling this grass-roots movement bringing it more in line with a company’s big picture goals and strategy. They worry about supporting the devices, about security and about staying in control. They should worry less.

As devices, cloud computing and software as a service become more mainstream – Microsoft’s Windows tablet and Windows Phone 8 smartphones are examples – BYOD will be less of an issue.

BYOD is not a passing fad but a logical and necessary step en route to the post-PC era.

Software defined networks

Software defined networks are set to do for networking what virtualisation has done for servers. There’s a great story explaining them in the Sydney Morning Herald’s ITPro section.

Virtual machines turn a single physical server into what appears as several separate computers. SDN separates network hardware from the controlling software. This means switches and routers can be reconfigured and orchestrated just like virtual servers.

Managing a network becomes flexible and dynamic.

The Next Big Thing

When companies first virtualised servers, it was mainly about consolidating resources. Quickly they found other benefits and the flexibility meant entire systems could be reconfigured at the drop of a hat. That’s probably what will happen to networks. You can expect rapid changes in storage technology as SDN gains acceptance.

Although few New Zealand businesses run their own networks on a scale that can benefit from SDN at the moment, you can expect telcos, cloud computing companies and other service providers to use them in coming months.

Why BYOD won’t be a problem for long

Everybody in the business IT world is talking about BYOD. Bring-your-own-device is what happens when companies allow or even encourage employees to choose their own workplace computers, phones or tablets.

BYOD can cause headaches for companies and CIOs, not least because of the cost of supporting dozens of different devices, multiple operating systems, hundreds of apps and so on. And then there are the security issues.

I caught a session by Cisco’s Vaughan Klein at Gen-i’s recent IP Voice seminar where he gave the best explanation I’ve seen so far, why problems are transitory.

Klein says BYOD will soon give way to bring-your-own-application and that in turn will give way to bring-your-own-browser.

Before long web browsers will deliver just about every business computer application – this includes the heavyweight suites from companies like Oracle and SAP. When that happens the support and security burden on companies will ease considerably.


The Jupiter Ace turns 30

Jupiter Ace
The Jupiter Ace

Jupiter Cantab’s Jupiter Ace has just turned 30. It is a curious footnote in the history of personal computing.

My review of the Jupiter Ace at Your Computer magazine was published in November 1982. It gets a mention in The Register’s story about the Ace’s 30th birthday.

I still remember the Ace quite well, mainly because it was a quirky home computer. We called them home computers in the early 1980s, the term personal computers came later.

Go Forth with Jupiter Ace

While every other home computer used Basic, the Jupiter Ace used Forth.

Early home computers didn’t have disks or operating system in the modern sense – although you could store programs and data on cassette tape. They mainly had a version of the Basic language stored on Rom.

Basic is an interpreted language. Each line of code is processed or interpreted in turn rather than compiled into machine code. This made it slow.

We need to put slow needs in context here. The Jupiter Ace had an eight-bit processor running at 3.2Mhz. That is roughly 1000th the clock speed of a modern PC.

Forth is still interpreted, but it uses a different structure, so it is many times faster than Basic. It was designed to control radio telescopes, so it was idea for building computer controlled-projects. I had just built a synthesizer and had plans to use the Jupiter Ace to build a drum machine.

However, it was harder to learn and much harder to understand. At the time a friend described it to me as a write-only-language. So the Ace was essentially a computer for serious programmers. That’s not me. I tried to get my head around Forth, but the Ace was soon in a cupboard somewhere collecting dust.

Thanks to Liam Proven @lproven for spotting my name in The Register story.

Why I don’t like the term ICT

ICT is a dumb piece of bureaucratic jargon that found its way into the technology mainstream.

I say dumb because it confuses matters and makes understanding unnecessarily difficult. The term is widely misused as a substitute for IT.

Information technology

IT, or information technology, is readily understood. It refers to computers, software and all the other stuff used to create and process information. This includes the communications networks used to move information from one place to another.

Information technology can be complex, but we all know what it is when we see it.

ICT (information and communications technology) fails as a useful name because it isn’t clear and unambiguous. It is irritating and unnecessarily pompous.

The term is popular in some circles because it sounds more substantial than IT. Not because it adds meaning.

You could argue the word communications is redundant – after all most modern communications technologies are a sub-set of IT.

Blame public servants

It’s not surprising the term was first used by people in government. Pomposity is the public servants’ first language. But the term is creeping in elsewhere.

The Wikipedia entry for ICT gives a fairly detailed explanation of how the term is used as a synonym for IT but has a more general meaning that takes in telecommunications and other technologies.

We need a term to describe the bigger technical picture, but ICT is too much like IT and that leads to the two terms being confused.

ICT – We’ve been here before

In the late 1980s the term IT&T (information technology and telecommunications) was pushed as an alternative to IT. It was especially popular with Japanese companies that sold products into both sectors.

At the time there was much talk about convergence between IT and telecommunications. As expected the two industries converged and IT&T fell from favour.