Desktop of the Future? What Desktop? - Shake up of the Digital Workspace!

I have been saying for some time that CIO/CTOs should be taking a serious look at the "desktop" of the future. What type of applications are needed, where they are sourced from, form factor and the impact on workplace design.

Tablets are already firmly entrenched in consumer hands, and indeed the hands of professionals. However, they fail to make a dent against the estate of desktop/laptop devices and the associated workplace implications.

Google Glass perhaps represents the next evolution of the desktop->laptop->netbook->tablet saga. This not only challenges the existing notions of mobility, but adds to the rich experience that you and I are demanding.


Google-glass-patent-2-21-13-01This is not necessarily a new idea. We have been seeing this in sci-fi movies for decades. Indeed, Sony also had a similar ambition around a decade ago.

However, this design, with modern materials and the massive backing of Google may well succeed en masse compared to previous designs.


The ability to link into Cloud based backends, stream applications magically/wirelessly, as well as surely providing input devices of corresponding smartness - maybe something tracking eye movements as we see for disabled individuals.

The really interesting feature that is involved is augmented reality for everyone. Google has been investing heavily in technology for mapping the real virtual in their 3D Google Maps. This investment is really going to pay off by providing a compelling lead.

Augmented reality

The practical application of information gathered all around us, and mapped onto our line of vision will increase our ability to navigate an increasingly complex world.

Such a concept could be easily translated to our business or indeed consumer worlds. Why can a stock trader not look around, cuk in relevant information about world events, annotate verbally on impact on stock price trends, and then have an automated trading engine supporting the actual trading desk.

A consumer could walk into a shopping center and automatically be presented with details of competitive offers in the area/online, trace the production chain to check the articles green credentials, and indeed order online from the same shop that the person is currently in - reducing the need to keep large quantities of stock at hand. And the effect on advertising.....well!

An office or knowledge worker would be literally able to grab data, manipulate it, enter data and essentially carry out any other task without the need for the traditional stuffy workplace environments we are surrounded by. Yuo never know, perhaps we could end up with workplaces that look like....(film: Matrix Trilogy - Zion control room)

Questioning "Accepted Wisdom"

Traditional ideas of the workspace environment being provided for employees and partners should seriously be challenged. It is not necessarily about whether a Microsoft 8 or Ubuntu will be rolled out. It is very much about providing a safe secure working environment, protecting data assets of an organization and increasing efficiency dramatically.

  • Challenge the idea of a desk! Find out what types of work environments are conducive for your staff, ranging from highly creative to highly task oriented individuals.

  • Understand how the walls of the organization can be made safely permeable. How can the technology enable an individual to be out there - physically, socially, online etc? What if voice recognition and real-time language translation capabilities are added?

  • What applications classes are being used? Where are they being consumed, in which form, are they on-premise sourced or from a SaaS/Public Cloud provider?

  • Understand the impact on the physical workspace, its constituent parts, how work and play can be mixed? Cost control and making creative workplaces can be benefit dramatically in this mindshift!
The way the physical world and information is being represented as digital assets that can be manipulated without regard to time and space constraints represents a dramatic opportunity for organization willing to challenge the current accepted wisdom.

Why is this important for the CIO, CTO & CFO?

CIO/CTOs are responsible for the overall digital enterprise architecture and workplace environment. The CFO has the fun work of ensuring sufficient funding whilst maintaining cash flow and a generally healthy financial posture. 

Rather than simply accepting what your IT staff are telling you regarding options for workspace computing based on a legacy view of software and physical computing devices, challenge what could be done by leaping forward.

  • How would this improve the financial situation regarding licensing, physical desktop estate, building space, furniture and employee productivity?

  • Understand what is needed from a human capital management perspective? Legislation and health may well be key drivers or blockers. What would such a workplace mean for talent management and making your organisation a 1st class address for potential graduates/employees?

  • From an enterprise architecture (a middle up-down architectural approach) what would be needed to service such a workplace environment and the implications on business stakeholder aspirations as they expressed currently?

  • Security, physical and digital, needs to be more pervasive but also more invisible. Data assets may needs to be stored in more secure ways in corporate datacenters. Databases are fine, but database firewalls, controlling who is doing what and why, would be required. Ditto for other areas powering the enterprise.
  • Database silos, using workload stacking and virtualization makes sense. However, combining them into the general compute environments together with other general data assets is probably not secure enough. A level of physical security should be ensured.
  • Understand if current investment in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) makes sense. Does it capture new digital realities? Understand new demands on mobility. Are you investing in something that literally will disappear?

Many organisations are experimenting at scale with full mobile (as we understand it today - usually tablets, smart phones, mobile video conferencing) technology.

They are experiencing the implications on the cost of providing IT capability, the impact on how employees are exploiting the technology, and overall performance of the organisation.Subtle areas such as training, motivation, social contact implications if working away from a "traditional office environment" need to be factored in.

This is a great chance to innovate and basically get the organization in top form for globalisation where labour factor costs are continually driving employment further offshore (until it comes full circle - the earth is indeed round and not flat) Smileyearth2


The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my current employer and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employer.

The Shape of Things to Come!

A lot of what I do involves talking with thought leaders from organizations keen to transform how they do business. In some cases, they espouse thoughts moving along general industry lines or marketing. However, in some cases, there is real innovative thought taking place. I believe firmly innovation starts with questioning the current status quo.

We are bombarded by Intel x86 as the ultimate in commodity processor offering everything one could possibly imagine on the one side, and public cloud on the other hand as the doom of in-house IT centers. It is incumbent on all in this industry to think beyond even the cloud as we know it today.

Questioning "Datacenter Wisdom"

This blog entry in entitled the Shape of Things to come with a clear series of ideas in mind:

  • System-on-a-Chip (SOC) are getting very powerful indeed. At what point are these so powerful that they represent the same order of magnitude as an entire hyperscale datacenter from Google or Amazon with a million machines inside?

  • Why does in-house IT have to move out to the cloud? Why could hyperscale clouds not be built up from capacity that organizations are already putting in place? This would be akin to the electricity grid as the transport for capacity created from multiple providers. Borrowing capacity could be done in-industry or across-industries.

  • Why is there disaggregation of all components at a physical datacenter level (CPU, RAM, storage, networking etc) rather than having assembly lines with appliances/constructs hyper-efficient at a particular task within the enterprise portfolios of services and applications?

  • Why are servers still in the same form factor of compute, memory, networking and power supply? Indeed why are racks still square and datacenter space management almost a 2-dimensional activity? When we have too many people living in a limited space we tend to build upwards, with lifts and stairs to transport people. Why not the same for the datacenter?

I 'm not the only one asking these questions. Indeed, in the industry the next wave of physical manifestation of new concepts is taking place albeit slowly. I wanted to share some industry insight as examples to whet the appetite.

  • At Cornell University a great whitepaper on cyclindrical racks using 60GHz wireless transceivers for interconnects within the rack show a massively efficient model for ultrascale computing.
  • RoundWirelessServerack

  • Potentially the server container would be based on a wheel with servers as cake slice wedges plugged into the central tube core. Wheels would be stacked vertically. Although they suggest wireless connectivity, there is no reason why the central core of the tube could not carry power, networking and indeed coolant. Indeed the entire tube could be made to move upwards and downwards - think tubes kept in fridge like housings (like in the film Minority Report!)
  • MinorityReport

  • One client suggested that CPUs should be placed into ultracooled trays that can use the material of the racks as conductors and transport to other trays full of RAM. We do this with hard disks using enclosures. Indeed Intel does 3D chip stacking already!
    • Taking the Intel 22nm Xeons with 10 cores or indeed Oracle's own SPARC T5 at 28nm and 16 cores as building blocks
    • A 2U CPU tray would allow say 200 such processor packages. This is an enormous capability! For the SPARC T5 this would be 3200 cores, 25600 threads and 11Thz of aggregate power!
    • Effectively, you could provide capacity on the side to Google!
    • A RAM tray would basically allow you to provide 20TB+ depending on how it is implemented (based on current PCIe based SSD cards).
  • Fit-for-purpose components for particular workloads as general assembly lines within an organization would fit in well with the mass-scale concepts that the industrial and indeed digital revolutions promoted.
    • If we know that we will be persisting structured data within some form of relational database, then why not use the best construct for that. Oracle's Engineered Systems paved the way forward for this construct.
    • Others are following with their own engineered stacks.
    • The tuning of all components and the software to do a specific task that will be used for years to come is the key point!

So the technical components in this radical shake up of the datacenter are materializing. We haven't even started to talk about some of te work happening in material science providing unparalleled changes in CPUs (up to 300GHz at room temperature) or even non-volatile RAM totally replacing spinning disk and possibly SSD and DRAM.

Why is this important for the CIO, CTO & CFO?

Customers typically ask whether they should move everything out to cloud providers such as Google/Amazon or private cloud hosters such as CSC/ATOS/T-Systems. Well looking at the nexus of technological change that is almost upon us, I would say that at some level it might make sense to evaluate the mix of on-premise and off-premise resource.

The Cloud is effectively a delivery model - some applications such as email clearly can be in the public cloud - bearing in mind privacy issues. However the capabilities needed for an organization to thrive as expressed in Enterprise Architecture in order to exploit market forces can be expressed in other ways.

  • Server virtualization relies on workloads not taking all the resources of a physical server. You should be questioning why the software, the most expensive components, is not being used to its maximum? Solving server acquisition costs does not reduce costs for you in a meaningful way.

  • Entertain the idea that with acceleration at every level of the stack, information requests may be serviced in near-realtime! The business should be asking what it would do with that capability? What would you do differently?

  • Datacenter infrastructure may change radically. It may well be that the entire datacenter is replaced by a tube stacked vertically that can do the job of the current football field sized datacenter. How can you exploit assembly line strategies that will already start to radically reduce the physical datacenter estate? Oracle's Engineered Systems are one approach for this for certain workloads, replacing huge swathes of racks, storage arrays and network switches of equipment.

  • Verify if notions of desktops are still valid. If everything is accessible with web based technologies, including interactive applications such as Microsoft Office, then why not ensure that virtual desktops are proactively made obsolete, and simply provide viewing/input devices to those interactive web pages.

  • Middleware may well represent a vastly unexplored ecosystem for reducing physical datacenter footprints and drastically reducing costs.
    • Networking at 100+Gbps already enables bringing your applications/web powered effective desktops with interaction to the users' viewing devices wherever they are.
    • Use intra-application constructs to insulate from the technical capability below. Java applications have this feature built-in, being cross platform by nature. This is a more relevant level of virtualization than the entire physical server.

  • Security should be enabled at all layers, and not rely on some magic from switch vendors in the form of firewalls. It should be in the middleware platforms to support application encapsulation techniques, as well as within pools of data persistence (databases, filesytems etc).
Enterprise architecture is fueling a new examination of how business defines the IT capabilities it needs to thrive and power growth. This architecture is showing the greater reliance on data integration technologies, speed to market and indeed the need to persist greater volumes of data for longer periods of time.

It may well be incumbent on the CIO/CTO/CFO to pave the way for this brave new world! They need to be already ensuring that people understand what is impossible now, technically or financially, will sort itself out. The business needs to be challenged on what it would do in a world without frontiers or computational/storage limitations?

If millions of users can be serviced per square round meter of datacenter space using a cylindrical server tube wedge/slice - why not do it? This is not the time for fanatics within the datacenter that are railroading discussions to what they are currently using - or to provide the universal answer "server virtualization from VMware is the answer, and what is the question?".

Brave thinking is required. Be prepared to know what to do when the power is in you hands. The competitive challenges of our time require drastic changes. Witness what is happening in the financial services world with traders being replaced by automated programs. This requires serious resources. Changes in technology will allow this to be performed effortlessly with the entire stock market data kept in memory, and a billion risk simulations run per second!


The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my current employer and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employer.