Pervasive vs distributed computing

Pervasive and distributed computing, two terms that are floating around a lot recently. But in truth, neither term does justice to what's really happening.

Pervasive computing and distributed computing. Chances are, your customers have been using both of those terms a lot lately. But it's up to you to set the record straight and identify how they can make the most of both computing architectures.

IBM coined the term pervasive computing shortly after Lou Gerstner took over in 1993. It means that computing is being done everywhere in a corporation, from wireless devices all the way up to the mainframes in the glass house. That's why IBM is rushing around the globe to secure deals to run front-end slices of its MQ Series middleware and DB2 on cell phones and other vendors' handheld devices.

IBM believes it can be everywhere, either with its own products or via partnerships with other vendors, ISVs or integrators that develop their own vertical applications.

(Just as a side note, IBM has been pretty good at coining terms of late. It made the term e-business a household word, which is a vast improvement from the old days of arcane names like systems network architecture and computer information control system.)

As important as pervasive computing these days is the term distributed computing, which is making quite a resurgence. The idea of sharing data among all processors on a network has been floating around for at least a couple of decades, and it's impossible to figure out who first coined it. Sun has made it a centerpiece of its research over the past decade, and before that, Novell was on the case. No matter who gets the credit, the most recent iteration of distributed computing is different from the old term. Rather than referring to sharing the processing, the term now has come to mean sharing data, as well.

Neither term does justice to what's really happening. Pervasive computing is a concept for selling a soup-to-nuts line of computer hardware and software. Distributed computing, in its current iteration, is a way of selling a variety of networking products and services. What we're really going to do with all this stuff, however, depends upon whatever checks and balances are put into the back shop of most organizations.

The shape of things to come isn't about raw potential, it's about what makes sense and how it gets deployed. What we're really talking about is integrated computing. If a company's back-end systems aren't equipped to handle a variety of data, as well as provide authentication and security, it doesn't matter what you call it. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

There's more to terminology than just hype. Your customers need to know that, or they may not be willing to foot the bill for all the services you believe they need.