Open letter to President Obama: The nation's network infrastructure is too weak and insecure

* We're moving full steam toward the Information Age but the nation's infrastructure isn't keeping up

The odds are that you'll be receiving this newsletter within 24 hours of Barack Obama's inauguration as President of the United States, so we decided that it's time to make our voice heard by writing an open letter to the President about why the nation's current network infrastructure is outdated for the new Information Age and what needs to be done. We'll return next week to our discussion of IT initiatives that will be popular in 2009.

Dear President Barack Obama,

Congratulations on your election, and we hope that you will be able to adapt to life without your Blackberry. We can hardly imagine the pressure of having such an important tool no longer at your disposal, but we hope that an aide will pass this message along to you. There’s no doubt that both in the United States and worldwide, the economy is a top-of-mind issue. And a key point to economic recovery is creating jobs and excitement around the nation's infrastructure. Cities and states are already making plans for building additional highways and bridges. And there's no question that this crumbling Industrial Age infrastructure needs attention. However, we also need to encourage the Administration and Congress to pay close attention to the infrastructure that will lead us into a bright and productive future, the infrastructure for the Information Age. 

Our economy of the future will depend mightily on the efficient transfer of information, and, as robust as the network infrastructure of today is, it needs a major-league upgrade. And, by the way, this upgrade will provide jobs for knowledge-based Information Age workers as opposed to mostly skills-based Industrial Age jobs that are disappearing.

For instance, collaboration and telepresence will, given the chance, provide the opportunity for workers to be more productive by reducing cross-country travel and even commuting travel. While this is not necessarily good news for the airline industry, it’s a reality. Collaboration and telepresence increase worker productivity, contain costs, reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, and, as a result, help in “green” initiatives.

But for these technologies to move forward rapidly, we simply need more bandwidth at a reasonable price. Videoconferencing on Skype looks really good – but surely by now you have experienced high-definition telepresence. It makes traditional teleconferencing look like a fuzzy old analog black and white TV. And while current collaboration tools are really good – please let us assure you that your aides will find it extremely frustrating to do advanced editing of a “Word” or “Excel” document on a computer that is located remotely, even when they have some form of high-speed Internet connection at each end.

Security of the worldwide networks is a matter in great need of upgrade. Yes, the Internet is fairly secure – considering. But imagine the impact of an Internet “crash.” That’s an infrastructure upgrade that’s absolutely critical.

And speaking of the Internet, we have to remember that the current “Internet 1.0” got its start roughly in 1969 and has served to enable fundamental transformation in how business is conducted. However, 1969 was a very, very long time ago. The Internet 1.0 was designed for e-mail and delivery of static content. And we’ve really stretched the model for use today.Part of rebuilding the infrastructure means a thorough re-thinking of what the “Internet” means.

And the need for bandwidth will only continue to escalate. Gigabit-per-second Ethernet is becoming commonplace, and 10 Gig Ethernet is starting to be implemented. So today’s multimegabit per second access lines will be an unacceptable bottleneck. But added capacity is only part of what needs to be upgraded in the infrastructure.

A new generation of protocols designed to ride on top of high-speed links and support a new generation of highly distributed applications are a key component. And speaking of transport, WiMAX and other such technologies should figure into the next generation as well.

Even though Herbert Hoover, contrary to the urban myth, never really promised “a chicken in every pot,” what we need now is a terabit-per-second to every home – or at least to every pedestal.


Steve Taylor Jim Metzler

We will elaborate on what else needs to be redesigned in subsequent newsletters.

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