The last decade has shown the gradual yet speedy decentralization of computing. All around the world, the role of the large mainframe computers, who used to handle nearly all vital functions in computing, are losing power.
This decided loss of power of the traditional mainframes can be attributed to the rise of smaller yet dynamic networks of computers. Sometimes the ones handling these networks aren’t even professionals. The keyword here is distribution.
According to John S. Quarterman and Smoot Carl-Mitchell of Texas Internet Consulting:
“Timesharing and batch systems still have uses, but the large mainframe is no longer the only way to do computing. Networks have spread computing power, access, and costs beyond centralized computer centers.
“Personal computers have made computing accessible to many new users. Distributed computing attempts to bring the manageability of mainframe computing together with the accessibility of networked computing and the transparency of personal computing.”
The perceived effects of this palpable paradigm or theoretical or conceptual shift from centralized computing to well-distributed computing is what the authors above call “great organization and transparency”.
Client and server computing and even peer to peer networks are forming dynamic lives and rules of their own, separate from the large mainframe computers of the yesteryears.
It is important to note these changes because the decentralization is key to the rise of the DOTCOM era in the nineties. To view computing as simply a hindrance to profit is inexcusable. There has to be scientific grounding first.
John S. Quarterman and Smoot Carl-Mitchell of Texas Internet Consulting further explain the concept of distributive computing:
“Many open systems are based on or implement interfaces related to the UNIX timesharing system. When open networking also provides transparent user access to resources and other users, it is called distributed computing.”
Boom and bust
Similar to the boom and bust cycle of capital-intensive industries, the wild frontier that is the Internet owes its own small Market and Economy to the distributive form of computing.
With the independence of small merchants with relatively small computer systems, the online mercantile system had been made possible. While larger companies are using larger computer systems, it remains a fact that thousands upon thousands of online merchants are using small systems for business.
Historically, we can locate the shift with the appearance of the following:
Four technological factors drove the decentralization of computing:
* Portable UNIX operating system
* Publicly available networking protocols
* Cheap microprocessors
* Cheap data communications (fiber optics) (Quarterman & Smoot-Mitchell, 32)
Microprocessors made Google king
With cheaper communications, it follows that many profited from the Internet enterprise. Google is one of the largest profiteers in the online boom and bust. We can make sense of this if we understand just what happened to the most expensive part of the computer a few decades ago:
“These are essential for both personal computers and workstations. Processors have decreased in price steadily over the past decade, but around 1986 processors such as the Intel i386 and the Motorola MC68020 became available that were powerful enough and inexpensive enough to support UNIX-class workstations with reasonable network performance, RISC chips such as the Motorola 88000, those from MIPS, the Sun SPARC chip, and the IBM ROMPchip, are also becoming increasingly popular.” (Quarterman & Smoot-Mitchell, 33)