Will the Internet still be here in 20 years? Of course it will, but that was the question asked of Nick McKeown, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Stanford; Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun; and Phil McKinney, vice president and CTO of the Personal Systems Group at HP at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit 07.
The panelists didn't need to assure the audience of Silicon Valley techies of the continued existence of the Internet." Asking if Internet will be here in 20 years is like asking if Ethernet will be here," McKeown said. However, the panelists were reluctant to paint much of picture of the Internet circa 2027. Who would have predicted the rise of Google and online advertising twenty years ago?
Not Bechtolsheim, who said that Google was a real surprise to him. "Where did all the questions go before Google," he asked. He must have had some small clue that Google might amount to something. He was one of the first investors in Google in 1998. A $100,000 investment in the Google idea and founders turned into over $1 billion.
Bechtolsheim predicted that mobile wireless access will have a major impact in the future of the Internet, untethering users from service providers. He just got an iPhone was in the honeymoon phase with the device, extolling the virtues of the 802.11 (Wi-Fi) wireless capabilities, larger screen and the full-blown browser.
He also said that security and privacy issues will continue to haunt the Internet in the coming years. On the applications front, Bechtolsheim said that Fortune 500 companies shouldn't be running their own datacenters. Sun is focused on providing infrastructure for startups as well as for the Fortune 500. "It's much easier if you outsource to whoever...it could be Google. It's the beginning of a trend that will change the entire IT industry," he said.
"Most change in IT is evolutionary. People hang on to old business models. The biggest changes are not driven by individuals who use the Internet but by startups that define new businesses. One of big questions is why haven't traditional companies taken advantage of new business models--it's too disruptive to their existing business models." He pointed to telecom service providers who limit services to preserve their existing business model. "In a few years every phone will have 802.11," he predicted.
Much of the discussion focused on communications infrastructure. McKeown pointed out that the companies that offer services and make the equipment are making money today, but not the infrastructure providers. There is a danger that if the telecom industry further consolidates, government regulation might be required, which is not the desired outcome. Video could eventually account for 99 percent of the traffic, which creates some challenges for the current business models from the service providers. Regarding quality of service and tiered service levels for the Internet, McKeown said, "If someone had wanted quality of service, they would have done it by now. It's not difficult to do from a technical point of view."
The evolution of the Internet will continue unabated as billions more get online. At the same time, the service providers trying to maintain their existing margins will be forced to rethink their business models or become the next dinosaurs of the Internet era.