The world of work, play and living is changing. The economic models we have all dealt with for many years are based on ideas that relate to enterprise manufacturing and do not fit the interconnected digital work.
The networked society gives us the strange idea of billion dollar corporations that own nothing – just our trust in them and our willingness to give them our information which they can then process, repackage and resell to increase the wealth of their shareholders. Facebook and Google are the two most obvious examples.
Change is rapid and accelerating. Recently, Encyclopaedia Britannica announced its last print run. From its establishment in 1768 it ran for 244 years and was made irrelevant by Wikipedia in under 10. The fixed-line telephone took 89 years to reach 150 million users; mobile telephones did that in 14. Then the iPod did it in 7. Facebook did it in 5. Broadband and mobile technologies continue to be embraced by all of us. Five years ago there was no Apps industry. Ten years ago, no one even imagined one. Now all the developed world consumes Apps voraciously.
Cooperative networks are the way in which the world is developing. StackExchange is a good example of world-wide collaboration. StackExchange is a network of free, community-driven Q&A sites where anyone can post a question and many people will answer, adding to the almost instant sharing of human knowledge. The key is not in its attracting potential users, but in intentionally repelling non-relevant potential users, so that each microsite is relevant only to people who can regard each other as peers in the chosen subject.
The world is moving from being enterprise-push driven to consumer-pull driven. Television broadcast is an example, where traditionally a broadcast channel defines programming and pushes it to the consumers. But the fastest growth in video is cloud-based pull, where the consumer chooses to buy an individual programme or a television series and has it delivered as and when he wishes for consumption as and when he or she wishes. So where is the future for television channels?
We are moving from the Age of Empires to the Age of Networks, where no-one can do anything fast and successfully unless they choose to co-operate with others, and give their time, effort and knowledge in exchange for the time, effort and knowledge of others who they may not know and may never meet. The world is moving from competition to collaboration, value chains are becoming value circles and leaders of enterprises become Connectors, not Directors.
One word of caution though, before we all get carried away by all this. There once was a scriptwriter called Bill Shakespeare, who was quite well-known when he was alive and more so afterwards. He wrote with great insight about people and the way people behave. Although the environment and the tools change at break-neck speed, people don’t, and are just as kind, mean, clever, dumb, malicious, altruistic and human as they were when Bill was writing about them in the 16th century. And they are not likely to change any time soon. This new world will only be what we people make it.
All of these new things are driven and enabled by the digital world and by digital 1’s and 0’s flying through the Ether (or the Cloud as it’s now known). The development of the Intel 4004 microprocessor in the 1970’s started off a huge revolution, of which we are only at the beginning. Just as we could not envisage the World Wide Web in the 1980’s or the App industry in the 1990’s, so we cannot envisage the world in which our grand-children will operate.
But what we do know is that somewhere all this ephemerality has to hit the ground. Somewhere at the bottom of it all there are servers and technicians with screwdrivers and delivery men arguing with security guards about spare parts and maintenance men grumbling about temperature controls. All the services that the new digital world uses as its platforms are based on physical hardware somewhere. It may be in a data centre, it may be in a cabinet by the side of the road in the rain, it may be attached to the roof of a London sewer, but it has to be somewhere.
Some of it is in dedicated enterprise data centres – the likes of Google and Facebook have enough economic muscle to design, build and operate their own mega-centres and design their own servers. But much of it is in commercial colocation data centres, all over the world.
And the continuing on-going growth of the collaborative digital world and of the amount of data there is and the amount of data that moves around means that colocation will grow as well. So the world of the commercial colocation data centre is likely to be one of on-going growth for the foreseeable future just to keep up with the growth of the digital economy.