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18.06.09 | Future is more than wireless
Filed under: Computer — Tags: , — Dr. Ivan @ 09:56 — Comments (1)

Have you ever had hard time remembering which of your portable devices you saved a file on? Or perhaps frantically trying to sync your working directory to the netbook? Or even been frustrated over the fact that your laptop is not powerful enough to perform the exact analysis you want it to while being away from your home computer? Then centralization of computing resources might be the solution for you.

First, a definition is in place. Broadly speaking, centralization of computing resources implies a simple server-client model: A powerful server machine provides all needed services for its users and can be accessed from anywhere over the net. Now, this is far from new – it is partially why the intranet was created in the first place, and a wide variety of businesses have been adopting this model for the large part of the past decades.

Nonetheless such organization of service providing is largely unknown to the average home computer user. To a certain degree this is understandable: There is little trade off in implementing any kind of server solution if you use your computer only at home for checking email. In this day and age though, it has become more and more common to have several wireless devices on hand no matter where one is located.

This is may be both a blessing and a curse. Continual connectivity may be seen upon as an extremely convenient way to browse through your rss-feeds on the bus, chat with your friends at school or perhaps just check whether you have got any new e-mail in your inbox. At the same time this presents a challenge: How does one synchronize and keep all the individual devices up-to-date? Doing this by hand (aka rsync and the likes) is out of the question for many. An uncountable number of products have been launched to solve this problem: Opera has had a synchronization option for its users for a long time (even more so now, when Opera Unite has been introduced) or for example Google’s wide range of applications, just to name a few.

These solutions are more or less intuitive, but any one of them alone seldom provide the needed options – so one way or another you end up using several solutions anyways. This is not convenient and implies that much of your precious time is spent fidgeting with the various devices trying to keep them up-to-date.

All of this may be solved with the introduction of the centralized data handling. In this case instead of working locally on your portable device, you connect to your server and then work and store data locally on that machine instead.

Such an arrangement introduces a whole specter of possibilities. Basically you are only working on one computer all the time: There is no longer need for any synchronization, no need to remember whether you saved a given item on your mobile phone, your laptop, your computer at work, your netbook or your home box. This is a huge advantage and a time-saver in itself.

Possibilities go far beyond this though: Centralizing your working environment means that you perform time-consuming cpu-intensive tasks from anywhere – not worrying about battery time or that your netbook has only one core clocked at 800 MHz. Or perhaps you want to play Assasin’s Creed 4 (which given the development of the industry will require an octacore machine with 16GB of RAM and a triple-SLI graphics card configuration)? No problem! Since you will just be basically transferring a movie of what’s going on on your home computer’s screen, there will be almost no stress on the CPU in your portable device. The same goes for watching your library of movies or your music collection.

Another aspect is of course the portable device itself. Hardware requirements are almost non-existent: There will be no boot sequence (meaning almost instant on/off) and no harddisk. Only a few components are needed: A wifi card, keyboard, touchpad, a simplistic graphics card and a low-power CPU which will be able to integrate input from the peripherals and send them off to the server while making sure the incoming stream of pictures is displayed on the screen. Such architecture is both efficient when it comes to the power usage (which implies that battery life time will be greatly extended) as well as very low cost.

Now there is no denying that this approach is associated with a number of problems, the three main ones being security, connectivity and maintenance. As the state of affairs is as per today (June 2009), only WPA2 encryption is considered secure. Pretty much anyone can intercept the stream of data you are sending and receiving, and if your security setup is faulty – you are pretty much done: In worst case scenario hackers might gain access to your server with full permissions. The server itself is also vulnerable, being constantly online. Nonetheless the aspect of security already relevant today. Majority of users today seem to ignore this: It is not uncommon to observe people running unpatched XP with firewall disabled and admin password set to “admin” over an unencrypted wireless connection. This is unlikely to change, and introducing a centralized model will only make the security hazards even more acute.

Connectivity might also present a challenge of its own: You are absolutely dependent on a persistent Internet connection; no wifi – no computer. Despite the fact that this aspect has been vastly improved during the past few years, it might still be a problem. Also, 3G or not, the bandwidth is as of today still too restrictive to be streaming movies without significant lag.

In addition to this battery power may be perceived as an important hindrance. But, as with connectivity, I believe that this will be solved by technological advances. I already have a netbook out of which I can squeeze 9 hours of battery juice. There is no reason why this number would not be extended in the future.

To conclude, I firmly believe that such model is a convenient way solving many of the problems accompanying multidevice setups today. Technology has already seemingly taken step in this direction, especially seeing the explosive popularity of netbooks which has emerged in the past few years. Given that the problems associated with this model are either solved, or at least reduced, it may well be that we will see some examples of application of such centralization in the near future.

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1 Comment »

  1. avatar

    [...] So, may be I have totally missed the point, but to a certain degree I fail to see the innovation. I absolutely agree that this is a very convenient model of operation: You have a computer running at home and have access to it from anywhere in the world over the net. Sounds wonderful, but as far as I know such ideas have existed, and indeed have been used, for a long time. I myself am a frequent user of such model and have been for several years. It makes synchronization absolete – and as far as I am concerned, that is a good thing (my thoughts on the subject). [...]

    Pingback by First impression: Opera Unite « Dr. Ivan's Blog — 18/06/2009 @ 16:58

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