• May 29, 2015

Are Apps Key to the Future?

By Terry White, Chief Technologist, Applications Services & Industry Solutions, Enterprise Services, and Fellow, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Not Without Services Innovation

“It’s the Application Economy, Stupid” blares a recent headline. There’s no doubt that applications, accessed through mobile devices, have moved to the forefront of everyday life. Developers are making fortunes by creating the next killer app. Virtually every enterprise is a technology business that must effectively leverage the cloud, social media, mobility, and the Internet of Things. Today’s customers are far more likely to experience brands through digital connections than through in-person interactions.

But this paradigm is incomplete. It ignores the foundational elements, without which the “application economy” could not function. People are dazzled by apps, but few realize what’s holding up the dazzle.

Digital Bedrock

Unless systems on the back end develop at a pace commensurate with the front end, the applications economy will simply run out of steam.

Back in the days when I was an application developer, my company worked to create a new sales planning tool. The business team put primary emphasis on developing an impressive user interface with new ways to capture and represent sales data, and they were anxious to get it into the hands of the field reps.

The application effectively gathered data, but the team soon realized there was no way to use the information generated. There were no demand-planning, forecasting, analytical, or supply-chain management functions in place to use the new style of the data. The app was essentially useless.

This isn’t surprising. People always gravitate toward the user interface, the front side of things. They seldom appreciate what’s underneath. For the applications economy to thrive, there has to be a foundation that develops and transforms at the same pace as the apps. The plumbing, power, and ventilation systems—so to speak—have to be in place to make the structure viable.

In a basic sense, this foundation already exists: the internet, web browsers, and protocols. Tools are available so that virtually anyone can develop apps that effectively exploit this foundation and quickly monetize their creation. It’s not unlike reality TV shows, where virtually anyone can feel like a star. With the right brand and a knack for getting in front of the right people, celebrity is easily within reach. You don’t really have to do very much in the way of heavy lifting.

Hitting the Wall

But what happens when we push the digital envelope beyond the laws of physics? With the rapid, exponential growth of data, devices, and demand for information, we’re rapidly approaching an environment where the so-called applications economy simply won’t perform. With more and more information comes the necessity to shove more and more bits down the network at an accelerated rate. But we’ll soon be hitting storage, processing, and pipeline limits.

An even bigger bottleneck is power. We currently have data centers where we can’t install more servers to expand desperately needed capacity, because we can’t get power to them. In the applications economy, it isn’t code, software, or hardware that poses the biggest challenge. It’s power, pipeline, storage, and processing architecture— things we tend to take for granted. But these bottlenecks will begin to exact some real pain if we don’t get ahead of them.

Overcoming these choke points means transforming computing architecture and rethinking how data is managed. Technologies such as memristors and silicon photonics that can transfer data many times faster than copper are key to overcoming these challenges.

Yet there’s another barrier lurking on the horizon: humans, and the scarcity of time and attention span. In the future, monetizing applications won’t be as easy as it is today.

Stressing the importance of applications to the successful enterprise is vital. But this calculus is incomplete. Unless systems on the back end develop at a pace commensurate with the front end, the applications economy will simply run out of steam. And we’ll all be left holding a bag of Big Data.