Virtualization, Optimization, and Procrastination

A small slice of the Internet of things (from the SP360 Cisco Blog)

I’ve been thinking more and more about the Nicira acquisition and where it fits in the larger context (specifically Cisco’s Internet of Things, multiplexing and hypervisors) and I keep coming back to one fundamental truth. Optimization and Virtualization generally maximize hardware, but they don’t replace hardware, at least not in the long term.

I think that organizations look to virtualization as a means of reducing cost, and while that might be true in the short term, the true value of virtualization is getting more for your money. Optimizations of any kind enable new innovations; faster bandwidth leads to higher resolution content, speedier processors to agile applications, and denser networks to ubiquitous access. I’d like to paint a rosy picture, but when I think back, optimizations haven’t always had immediate positive consequences.

One could argue that the Dot Com bust was brought about not by investments in companies without business models, but through the advent of multiplexing, which is a technique for jamming more information on less fiber. Multiplexing cratered the value of fiber in the ground, which nearly killed Level3, the grandfather of all Dark Fiber Juggernauts, and frankly they haven’t recovered to this day. You could say multiplexing enabled tons of new development, but it first had to kill a lot of young telecom companies. Multiplexing was a form of information transportation optimization. The hypervisor was the same but for a different medium.

Hypervisors allowed computing, storage and network resources to be directed to multiple operating systems. Instead of each company owning their own rack inside a datacenter, suddenly they shared a slice of some distant cloud. This dramatically changed the computing industry from the datacenter to the enterprise in a fundamental way. But these innovations pale in comparison to the implications of Cisco’s Internet of Things (IoT).

The concept of Cisco’s IoT is that there are now more devices connected to the internet than people. It’s actually been this way for some time, but the point is that there are more sensors (billions more in fact) than people using the internet for applications. These sensors create more data in a single day than a person could digest in a lifetime. To borrow a quote from the Cisco paper:

“With a trillion sensors embedded in the environment—all connected by computing systems, software, and services—it will be possible to hear the heartbeat of the Earth, impacting human interaction with the globe as profoundly as the Internet has revolutionized communication.”

Peter Hartwell
Senior Researcher, HP Labs

Whereas previous technical innovations have tried to optimize physical infrastructure, the IoT attempts to optimize interaction. The tremendous amount of data collected every second can lead to new insights about everything from cows to spaceships. It’s going to be an incredible journey to watch, but I can’t wait to see where IoT leads.

Optimization has been the path of technical evolution for most innovations over the last quarter century. It will be interesting how this technical insight is applied to human interaction, but it gives us the possibility of understanding our world on a deeper level than we do now. That’s exciting, and one of the potential waves of technology in the coming years.