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'Trillion-node network' arrives: we need smart design more than ever

We may already have exceeded a trillion nodes. Time for some good architectural and design practices.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Some big-picture thinking to ponder:

Ten years ago, Peter Lucas, founder of MAYA Design, wrote a prescient white paper on the implications of reaching the "trillion-node network." (MAYA recently posted a video on the topic, which got some attention from John Hagel and others on Twitter.)

Time for smart architectural and design practices

We're getting closer to that reality, or may have even surpassed it by now. The points raised in Lucas' paper bear revisiting, especially with the rapid rise of cloud computing, which spreads processing and information workloads to all points across the globe.

It is estimated that there are now more than 1.7 billion people using the Internet across the globe, along with more than four billion mobile phones out there. IBM's Sandy Carter estimated that we already have "over three trillion things connected into the Internet, "over a billion transistors per person in the world today," and over 30 billion RFID events being generated.

Successfully leveraging such a large global grid is not a technology challenge, but a challenge for smart design, smart architecture and human factors engineering. We see a lot of these discussions today around SOA, cloud, and Web 2.0. The rise of the enterprise architecture discipline within enterprises is an important response to this need.  As Lucas put it back in 1999:

"The Trillion-Node Network will not be designed from the top down, but nor will it emerge entirely on its own. Its evolution will be utterly dependent on the subtle but pervasive effects of a shared consensual style of information architecture. Such a style is not “about” hardware or software or user interfaces. Rather, it is about an emerging ecology of people, information, and devices. This is an agenda for design in its deepest sense. If these arguments are valid, then the emergence of the Trillion-Node Network will inevitably coincide with the emergence of the first mature community of information designers.... Design at this scale cannot rely on engineering discipline alone. It will entail the kind of loose consensus among communities of designers that, in traditional architecture and design, goes under the name of style.”

The inability to deploy and work with such great amounts of information and processing power is not a failure of technology or technical know how, but a failure of imagination a failure of design, and a failure of architecture.

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