At the EMC World 2014 show in Las Vegas, I was a “Booth Stud” explaining who Brocade is and why we matter in the EMC solar system.
I started conversations with passersby asking them what they knew about the 3rd Platform. It is a term IDC uses to draw attention to the macro-scale changes in computing technology. This IDC report sets the stage for the transformations driving the emergence of a 3rd Platform of computing. It discussses a broad set of changes that have merged into the large force that is transforming markets: and the transformation will be equal to that of the preceeding two platforms.
I am old enough to have been messing with computing since the middle of the 1st Platform epoch. Starting as a freshman in college, my career has revolved around computing in one way or another. I experienced how the 1st Platform made possible complex calculations it would have taken years to complete with the personal computer of the day, the slide rule. I was one of those who helped the 2nd Platform make computing ubiquitous, even to children in school classrooms. I suspect a similar transformation is underway as the 3rd Platform grows more dominant.
I started programming as an engineering student using FORTRAN on an IBM 1460 in 1970; the classic flow chart, punch cards, GO TO world of the 1st Platform.
IBM 1400 Series Mainframe
My major accomplishment was in my senior year when I wrote a numerical simulation of the heat transfer and temperature profile at 0.01 inch resolution for a single turbine blade used in the Pratt & Whitney J-57 jet engine.
Pratt & Whitney J-57 Jet Engine
I found out I liked writing computer programs. To use the 1st Platform as a mechanical engineer required learning how to program, how to convert the engineering problem into computer code that could run in the resources available--16 KB main memory, 10 MB storage--and then remove the engineering errors as well as the programming errors in a batch programming environment. It took 10 to 20 minutes to make and test a single change in a program depending on how many other programs were scheduled to run.
A little over a decade later in the early 1980’s I started using the 2nd Platform when I introduced a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1 into the engineering company I worked for. It had 16 KB memory, four floppy drives (180 KB each), a cassette tape drive and a dot matrix printer.
Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1
Those were the days of VisiCalc and Electric Pencil, but I still had a FORTRAN complier for my comfort blanket and BASIC too. Almost immediately I ended up relying on “packaged programs” others had written. I typed my own memos, did all our project management, billing forecasts, labor costing and budgeting on that TRS-80. I held weekly planning meetings around it and updated the changes directly into VisiCalc. If I had to write all these programs myself, I would have had to learn assembler and it would have taken far too long. Amazing how powerful it is when a small company can afford to own a computer with packaged software. It changed what was possible and transformed the way we ran the business. My secretary was getting bored.
Two decades after college in the early 1990’s I managed a diverse team of engineers. Our customers were school districts who invested taxpayer money to bring computers into the classroom and update their back office Data Processing department (it wasn't called IT back then) with lower cost UNIX servers running Oracle databases. This lowered the maintenance cost of mainframes, COBOL applications and VSAM files using an SNA network to connect to the “green screen” terminals. All this was replaced with UNIX client/server systems connected to PCs and Apple IIs using a LAN in each building and a private WAN network to connect it all together. This was an economic evolution driven by demands for more money spent "on student education". The revolutionary part of the 2nd Platform was going on in the classroom changing how teaching and learning happened.
2nd Platform Transforms the Classroom
Teachers and curriculum development teams were excited about how they could change education if they had a couple PCs or Apple IIs in the classroom. Computer labs replaced typing classes. The instructional questions were swirling around. Should the middle schools teach programming or just offer it in the high schools? Should word processing be taught in English class, and spreadsheets in Business class, or should they focus on showing students how to use the Internet to find resources for their English and History papers? Which was better Archie or Veronica for finding information? Did they need an expensive DVD drive in every PC or could several PCs share one using the LAN? Do we build the LAN with Token Ring or Ethernet? And what was this Internet all about? How should they use it in the classroom?
The excitement came from affordable computers as a tool for communication, accessing data beyond the books in the classroom or school library and to create collaborative learning. What education can become was open to invention. But, high schools still taught programming and some districts offfered electronics courses where students built their own computers from kits, so the 1st Platform effect was still evident.
Now back to the 21st century where I’m in Las Vegas in the midst of all the talk about the 3rd Platform and why it’s important. There is a lot of conversation and presentations about SDN, NVF, VDX, VMAX, ViPR, VNS, SAN, FCoE, iSCSI, SDS, SDDC, IaaS, PaaS and the other technobabble terms that echo around a show floor for four days. With all that white noise, the meaning of the 3rd Platform can get lost.
It’s easier to understand what the 3rd Platform means if I think about what would happen in the school districts that I upgraded to the 2nd Platform two decades ago. What would they look like when they are standing on top of the 3rd Platform?
Instead of a central office IT department hosting servers that teachers store their presentations and lessons on, they subscribe to an educational service hosted in the cloud. It offers on-line courses, videos, and immersive educational games that any student can access on a smart personal device at school, home or anywhere they wonder about something and want to understand it. The process of learning moves from 30 students huddled around five Apple II or PCs of the 2nd Platform to individual learning at the pace of their curiosity on a personal smart device with a breadth of knowledge that can be anywhere in the world covering any time in history since man recorded thought. Courses have softer boundaries allowing history and science to integrate while music, dance and mathematics become a single flowing stream of insight about the world and what it is to be human. Lessons, labs, demonstrations, group projects move out of the physical constraints of a single classroom, school building or school district to the world itself. What happens to the mind, cultural awareness, social norms and curiosity when the 3rd Platform is a childs normal experience? It’s revolutionary to contemplate.
The 3rd Platform has to stand on something and the “things” it stands on are still familiar from the days of the 1st Platform: computers, storage and a network. The phyical things are recognizable if you look closely for them, but how they are assembled, controlled and by who are very different. And that’s driving the technology transformation below the surface that makes the promise of the 3rd platform possible. If we are going to have billions of people and 100’s of billions of devices connected together sending data to and from millions of applications and 100’s of millions of personal device "apps", then the connective tissue that is the network can’t depend on hand crafted configurations assembled by scarce talent or we will never reach the scale required for an information economy.
What does the 3rd Platform mean to a networking company like Brocade whose roots are in the 2nd Platform?
Despite the alarmist arm waving pronouncement that the 3rd Platform will destroy all networking life as we know it—as if this is the meteor impact that obliterates the dinosaurs—the emergence of a new technology platform doesn't have to be so destructive. The next platform enfolds the earlier ones changing who uses the technology, how they use it and expanding what is possible. The underlying first and second platforms evolve to efficiently support the increased scale of the new platform surrounding them, or the 3rd Platform cannot exist since it has to rest on top of them.
That’s why EMC is developing ViPR into a software platform that delivers uniform storage orchestration. It enfolds existing 2nd platform storage systems so storage management is simple, non-disruptive and automated and it’s why Brocade integrated our Fibre Channel products with ViPR so manual zoning is no longer required since it is automatically programmed by ViPR using software instead of administrators typing on the keyboard.
It’s why Brocade VDX switches, VCS Fabrics and MLX routers are being updated with OpenFlow software and why Brocade is investing engineering time designing OpenDaylight standards and submitting OpenStack code for network and storage orchestration. It is why we now offer the Vyatta router and ADX application delivery controller as software stacks ready for Network Function Virtualization (NFV) running in virtual machines in a hypervisor. We stand on our 2nd Platform to build the extensions required to support our 3rd Platform innovations.
The 3rd Platform is rapid evolution of technology that accelerates the more compelling revolution in what is possible, in the classroom for example, when the tools of education move into the cloud and learning transcends the walls of a school building.