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The Future at the Internet's Edge

The Future at the Internet's Edge

With the current focus on the cloud it might seem that the Internet works from the center out -- if the Internet can be said to have a center. And with the massive move of IT infrastructure to the cloud, DevOps folks might be wondering what this means for the future of their careers and if increasing centralization will mean a shrinking job market, a question Robert Shimp with Oracle's Linux and virtualization unit, took a stab at answering at last month's LinuxCon.

"It's a fact that over the next few years about 50 percent of all the privately held corporate data centers in large companies are going to go away," he said, "and for small or mid size businesses, the percentage is going to be dramatically higher. That leaves the IT ops person with a couple of choices. Either you're going to go to work for some intergalatic infrastructure provider or you're going to find something else interesting for your company to do."

Not to worry. According to Shimp, with the advent of containers, microprocesses and distributed computing, as well as the increasing number of devices competing for bandwith, you probably won't have to look for work because it'll probably find you -- and much of it will come not from the Internet's center, but from its edge.

"The picture isn't as bleak as it might appear," he said. "In fact, I would argue that for those who really want to embrace it, there is a tremendous new opportunity to do a lot of interesting things."

Shimp was giving a presentation on "Linux Administration in Distributed Cloud Computing Environments." Despite the use of the word "Linux" in the title (it was LinuxCon, after all), he spent the first half of his presentation laying out his vision for what the Internet holds in store, with none of it being Linux specific. The future, it seems, will almost certainly be operating system agnostic.

"I will make the forecast that no more than one-third of the business applications out there are going to run in some giant hyperscaled data center in Chicago or wherever," he said. "Two-thirds of all the business applications are in fact going to be distributed computing types of applications that do much, much more interesting things than ERP, including peer-to-peer social and mobile networking applications, a lot of business applications for virtual reality -- augmented reality -- and then of course, the whole world of real time control, Internet of things and so on."

The way Shimp sees it, much of the network's future will lie on the edge of the Internet. "There are, roughly speaking, twenty-some odd billion intelligent devices out there on the edge of the network. That's going to 80 billion by 2025. It's a very dramatic shift. There is a lot more intelligence in people's smart phones today; that's only going to increase more and more over the coming years. That's going to create a lot of computing capacity at the edge of the network."

Because of this, much of the added traffic on the Internet's edge will, by necessity, be designed to never go beyond cell phone towers. "Most of these types of devices are incredibly chatty and if you allow them to simply connect up to the hyperscale clouds and do whatever they're doing, it's basically going to bring the Internet to its knees over time," he explained.

"The idea is to move to distributed applications in which we push the computing capacity, all the data in the applications, as close to the edge of the network as we can and primarily reserve those big hyperscale clouds for the classic system of record application that requires a central database to do a whole bunch of transaction processes and analytics and so on."

In his presentation, Shimp not only laid out a detailed look at the applications that might one day be used at the edge of the Internet, but also how this technology might be implimented. The entire presentation is currently available on YouTube.

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