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IBM’s Internet chief prognosticates about the future of Big Blue and the Internet

INFOWORLD – December 4, 2000
Volume 22, Issue 49
By Ed Scannell

ALTHOUGH HIS TITLE at IBM is vice president of Internet Technology, John Patrick thinks one could easily add Chief Dreamer to it. Patrick may walk amidst those living and working in the here and now, but he is prone to long excursions of the mind, visiting the future.

Inside IBM, Patrick heads up Big Blue’s Internet Technology group, which is typically focused on developing and demonstrating leading-edge Internet-based technologies. Projects have included large, complex Web sites that have broken new technological ground.

These days Patrick has the NGI (Next Generation Internet) on his mind. He sat down recently with InfoWorld Editor at Large Ed Scannell to talk a little about the emerging technologies that would shape NGI and, in turn, reshape people’s business and personal lives over the next few years.

InfoWorld: What are some of the more important changes we will see in the Internet over the next few years?

Patrick: If you took a poll and asked people what they thought the biggest change in the Next Generation Internet would be, they would say it will be faster. Fast is certainly an aspect of NGI, but there are six other characteristics that are at least as important as speed. The second is it will be always on, third is it will be everywhere, fourth is it will be more natural to use, fifth is it will be more intelligent, sixth is it will be easier to use, and seventh is it will be trusted.

InfoWorld: By how much will it get faster and when will that happen?

Patrick: There are a lot of skeptics who think, well maybe it is going to be fast where you live but it isn’t fast where I live. It is one of those things where you think if you don’t have it yet, you are never going to have it. But the reality is, it is happening. We will have bandwidth galore. But you have to talk about it in two segments — the last mile, and then the backbone. The backbone is what people used to call the Information Superhighway, the primary artery that carries the traffic. And what is going on there is a total transformation to fiber optics. We used to think of fiber optics as a strand of fiber, a light you can turn on and off. But the breakthrough there is DWDM — Dense Wave Division Multiplexing.

InfoWorld: How far along is that technology and when will it be widely dispersed?

Patrick: It is happening quickly. The technology is advancing faster than people can get it implemented. It used to be a single strand of light. Now people are implementing 16 different colors of light through a single strand. But the state of the art in the labs now is up around 1,000 windows. Some people are talking about multiple thousands. The impact of this will be a tremendous amount of capacity. I think we are now up to 16 million miles of fiber that has been laid down.

InfoWorld: So what will users be able to do with this sort of capacity in the short term?

Patrick: The implications of this [added speed and capacity] impact is that people will start to expect more. If you give them a half megabit [per second] … they want to see something cool. They’ll want lots of jitter-free video and already there are some sites popping up now like TvFlicks.com, etc. So when people ask me when is broadband going to be here, my answer is it is here but we all don’t have it yet. My advice is that developers should be creating content now for 28.8 but also for a full megabit.

InfoWorld: What’s the business and/or sociological impact of an always-on Internet?

Patrick: I think it is big deal. It is profound because it changes the propensity of people using the Internet. When you have to log on to find out what the weather is in Boston before you fly, you don’t bother. It takes too long. You must boot the PC, dial the ISP, bring up the browser, and go to the site. But if you are just on, you just reach over and click the weather link and boom, there it is. The other change always-on makes is we will start to see new kinds of data, not just browser data. For example, you might see monitoring of a pacemaker of a family member. Or you could be on a train going to work and realize you didn’t close the blinds at home and you can use your cell phone to connect the LAN in your house and you can shut the blinds from the train. You can do this because your house is always on.

InfoWorld: But it will be a while before most people have houses that are always on. Isn’t this something that is 10 or 15 years away for most people?

Patrick: Well that is like broadband. Everyone is not going to have it, but more and more people will. In the Northeast now, there are thousands of Bell Atlantic-trained technicians who are putting CAT 5 in new home constructions. We are about at the point now where most mid- and upper-scale homes will be built with CAT 5 in them. It is a lot like five years ago when most people didn’t have the Internet but now most people do.

InfoWorld: What impact will the Internet have on pervasive devices?

Patrick: Today about 95 percent of Web pages are viewed through a browser on a PC. That figure will drop to less than half over the next couple of years as the Internet develops these seven characteristics. At the end of May [2000], Japan became the first country where more than half the Web accesses came from a phone. I am not suggesting PCs are declining, because I think they will keep growing. But things like cell phones, PDAs [personal digital assistant], public kiosks, MP3 players, [and] Kerbango Internet Radios will all emerge.

InfoWorld: There seems to be some physical limitations you run up against with some of these devices, like cell phones, for example. Does that limit a full Internet experience?

Patrick: I agree that streaming video to a cell phone in the year 2000 is not something a lot of people are going to have. Or if they do have it, they will not enjoy it. But think about using a browser in 1994. Trying to install Mosaic and getting it to work properly wasn’t all that great. But it evolved quickly and that is what is going on here now. We have enabled IBM.com, the content, so that anyone with a cell phone who has a micro browser can go www.ibm.com and they can get what’s new from a stock quote to looking up names and addresses.

InfoWorld: What role do you think instant messaging [IM] can play in evolving the Internet?

Patrick: Well, things like language enabled instant messaging where you send a message in your language and they receive it in their language — language translation done on the fly — can make that experience richer. The other part of IM is it can tie into e-meetings. With e-meetings you can leverage the T120 application-sharing standard with the H323 video conferencing standard to provide a capability for meetings on the Internet. It is a killer app nominee. We can have hundreds of e-meetings going on at any one time at IBM. The way I think of instant messaging is that of a back channel. It is the back channel. It provides a new synchronous way of supplementing conference calls and application sharing.

InfoWorld: What role do you see XML playing in the evolution of NGI?

Patrick: XML as a standard is really important. It does for content what TCP/IP did for communications. It provides a standard that allows Web pages to have context. Once Web pages have context, they can be integrated with applications. This is the Holy Grail of e-business, to do application integration. It allows the Web to go deeper because it allows the Web to be more intelligent. And the more intelligent it is, the easier it makes it for companies to evolve these e-commerce marketplaces. [XML] also allows for a separation of the content of a Web page from what the page looks like. Once you do that, you can then create content and then target that content for not just PC browsers, but also for phones, PDAs, and kiosks.

InfoWorld: Do you think IBM will shift some of the work coming out of your labs more towards consumer applications than business? Or is that going against the grain of
your corporate charter?

Patrick: We have the Aptiva line and other products that are useful for consumers. The word consumer is tricky by itself. The Internet is about people, and some people are doing things at home; others are students, and still others are purchasing agents in a big company. So I am not sure what a consumer is anymore.

InfoWorld: How easy is it to build Web sites for e-commerce these days?

Patrick: Well it isn’t easy. It is getting easier but it needs to get a lot easier. There are a couple of aspects to this. To build really slick Web apps that people find useful, you want to have those apps look and feel like what people are used to. So in the Windows world you have apps like Quicken, used by millions of people. It distinctly looks and feels like a Windows app. If you do that same app in a Web browser, it doesn’t necessarily feel right. We have been thinking about this for awhile and trying to figure out how we can make it easy for people to build Web apps that look and feel like the native desktop, whether it is Windows, Linux, or for a cell phone or PDA. But to build a Web-based app that looks and feels like Windows, you have to be a C++ expert. And there are not a lot of those around. So we devised SASH for Windows, and we just released SASH for Linux into the open source community. Over time as Linux continues to get more influential and pervasive, that would mean
less porting. Less porting means things get easier because you can focus more on the applications of the users.

InfoWorld: Where do you put security on the priority list for NGI?

Patrick: Being trusted, having to do with authentication and digital identification, is a very key element of NGI. It is time for major industries to show leadership and take advantage of what is now a legal framework in America for digital IDs. When you look across all the things we deal with in our business and personal lives, there is still a lot of it that revolves around notaries, faxes, paper procedures. Digital IDs offer the ability to make those things better. There are five key components to what the digital ID does for you: authentication, so we can establish who we say we are; authorization, so you are allowed to buy with credit; confidentiality; integrity, andnon-repudiation, which means that as a result of the other four, these transactions can stand up in court.

InfoWorld: How much of that is in play today?

Patrick: It is all there. There are no technology roadblocks. What is needed to move forward with this is leaderships in industry. The government has passed legislation now that says that a digital ID is as good as one with ink. There are multiple companies that offer certificate authority, such as Verisign and others. This is a key part of NGI because when we have all these devices and bandwidth, when we are always on, these five things become really, really important. They become fundamental to establishing trust. They become fundamental to privacy. You can’t be private unless you can establish who you are. We are right in the knee of the curve where this
can and should move forward.