I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
The fact the famous quote is likely incorrectly attributed to him is immaterial. 80 or years later the World may just prove him (or whoever said this) right.
According to Microsoft research chief Rick Rashid, around 20 per cent of all the servers sold around the world each year are now being bought by a small handful of internet companies – he named Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Amazon.
– quotes Richard Waters at The Financial Times
This is clearly a sign of concentration of computing power in very few hands, and the concentration may be even higher if we consider that Google typically builds their own servers rather than buying them, adds Big Switch author Nick Carr. This new data clearly supports the theory laid out in Big Switch: as Utility Computing gains, increasingly the Net becomes the computer. Whether we end up with one logical Megacomputer, or five or ten, does not matter: clearly, eventually both our data and applications will be highly centralized, served up from the Cloud.
So in that sense, Thomas Watson will be proven right – albeit a century or so late, and certainly not in the sense he meant. (i.e. lack of real demand for computing).
But there’s another side of the coin: while we’re seeing concentration on the high-end, we’re also seeing a proliferation of access devices in users hand. Perhaps one day these will not be computers, but they are certainly more powerful than the machines Mr. Watson was talking about. He could hardly foresee computers outside major corporations or Governments. But a few decades later his company, IBM found itself in the Personal Computer business.
Except those PC’s were not really personal: still prohibitively expensive. Just about all employees had one on their desk, but few could afford one at home. A few years later PCs became household items – but still typically one big fat unit for the entire family. But those PCs got retired, and instead of throwing them away we gave them to the kids when we upgraded to bigger, fatter, shinier new ones. So perhaps that was the point when the PC really became personal: everyone had one.
But it was typically “the computer” for all of us. One computer, one copy of often expensive programs, our data shuffled back and forth between the home and business machines. But that’s an old model as more and more of us realize – or perhaps just do, without explicitly recognizing it. Your cellphone is probably more capable than your first PC was – is that a computer? And the cute little Netbook you bought for $299 – is that a computer?
We’re entering the age where we no longer just have one personal computer (or a decade ago one for the family), but multiple situational devices: a desktop with a large screen for the office or home, a notebook for easy travel or even work at the backyard, a netbook for short trips, conferences, an iPhone if you want to carry even less, perhaps a CrunchPad for those lazy moments on the couch or at the pool-side, a wrist watch-computer for jogging … you name it.
Personal computing has become device-independent: we’re accessing the (eventually) few virtual Megacomputers through different situational devices, whichever way it suits us, and whether we call them computers or not.
So the answer to the Title question:
- The World needs a handful supercomputers in the Cloud
- The World needs billions of situational devices (formerly known as computers) in our hands.