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Welcome to the world of amorphous computing
Organisations are wrong if they think they can still apply the old wired rules...
Written on a flight from London to Munich, edited in my hotel and sent to silicon.com from an Apple Store in a shopping mall in Charlotte, North Carolina, via a free wi-fi service.
For me, networks have always been a source of wonder and interest. It is not just their topology and the way they grow, but how they perform and what they do that intrigues me.
For those in a certain age range, the word 'network' is associated with really solid concepts such as road, rail, air, sea, telephone, power, gas, oil, radio, TV, internet, vascular, nervous and social.
Those constructs are all things you can grasp. They are physical, easy to conceptualise and they have set the scene for much of our network thinking.
New perceptions about wireless
At the younger end of the age range, we have people with new experiences. They have never used a telephone tethered to a wall by a wire, or indeed a laptop or games machines wired into a network. Theirs is a wireless world where even a mouse and keyboard come disconnected.
This population has a different view of what constitutes a network, and it isn't solid, but more like a gas or mist. Dare I say it? More like a cloud.
From location to location, they hop on and offline at will, but with no real idea of how it works and what is involved. Does this behaviour matter? I think not. In fact, it has the potential to add to our overall richness of thinking. It also changes our wider expectation and future mobile abilities.
The real problem is the number of companies and institutions that just don't get it and continue to hang on to the old wired ways. In the worst cases, the wired rules are blindly applied to a new wireless world.
In the face of such obstacles, human frustration and ingenuity will find a way, and it can often lead to dangerous and risky actions by individuals who want to circumvent the rules. Opening up illegal wi-fi access right under the nose of an IT or security department is now very easy, and I find it happening more often than you might guess.
The bigger and older the organisation, the more of these wireless violations are possible to find. On the upside, the smartest of the violators realise that transitory operation helps hide their activities, while also offering an added degree of security. They also seem to have the nous to operate these wireless nodes as invisible access points, which gives some further protection.
The really risky approach is the wide-open set-ups with zero security I sometimes stumble across. These networks are based either on ignorance or some misguided sense of providing a public service. Here, trust is the assumption, and it is not a good idea. Trust is what you do when you don't know any better.
Rise of open access to corporate networks
My advice to both sides is to come clean and solve the minor problems involved in resolving this growing tension. Without giving away any numbers, I can say there is definitely a rapidly rising incidence of open access to corporate networks worldwide. And it is so easy to solve this problem.
More importantly, we need to recognise that wireless is now the norm, the tethers are fading away, and as a result our behaviours are also changing in ways that make Bluetooth and plain old wi-fi seem outmoded.
To my mind, the implications are profound with the opportunity to share screens, processing power and memory. This is going to be a world of amorphous computing, rather than one of isolated devices and people. In fact, it will be the social networking of the machines.
In the leading companies I work with I have seen the removal of dedicated offices, fixed-line telephones, wired internet access, along with the old ways of working and managing. Mobile phones, laptops, iPads, VoIP and flexible working are now the norm, and wired anything just doesn't work anymore.
The net result is always reduced operating costs, greater flexibility and adaptability and, of course, enhanced security.