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August 2011
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Magazine
E-mail About the Author

 

The Future of the Internet

Advances will connect people like never before.

The future of the Internet is beginning to take shape as Web 3.0 capabilities become available for everyday lives in both personal and professional capacities. But as technology continues to blaze forward at blinding rates, the opportunities for innovators to affect that future abound. Leaders of major companies agree on some of the trends consumers can expect to experience, but they also have their own ideas about how their organizations will shape, and fit into, the new digital landscape.

One company striving to push the edge of Internet technology for both civilian and military uses is Cisco. Kevin Orr, the corporation’s vice president of U.S. Defense, sees five key pieces of Web 3.0: mobile Internet, apps and business analytics, social networking, cloud computing and unified collaboration. Though these factors already play roles in today’s Web environment, their expansion and growth will affect how individuals and organizations behave in the coming years.

Social media, for example, is a term generally associated with Web 2.0. The move to the next generation of Internet technologies is connecting it, and all the other pieces, through unified communications. In such a situation, users will be able to access information quickly about where people are and how best to contact them in certain situations. For example, a desktop application may indicate that Person A is in a meeting. Person B then knows that a telephone call is unlikely to achieve an immediate result, although Person A may be able to respond to a quick text message. “It becomes a lot about presence,” Orr explains, adding that the question these technologies will answer is how to contact a person at any time. Already, social media sites such as Facebook are using a version of this by showing when account holders are updating via mobile platforms rather than regular computer connections.

In the warfighting spectrum, this communication enhancement is especially necessary, Orr says, adding that military members have a critical need for immediate information. As handheld smart devices advance, the systems that support them will be intelligent enough to decide what types of information they can or cannot accept based on bandwidth conditions. To illustrate, a Marine on the front line might need to pull some imagery, and the network would know how much it can accommodate and what packets to drop. Orr explains that the network will be able to make these decisions across a spectrum of services such as instant chat and Web conferencing, which might require choices about what quality of video to support at a given time.

All these actions will be automatic, so the humans involved can concentrate on their immediate tasks, not on how to configure their devices and the network to provide the information they need. The smart networks will be able to poll the devices attached to them to determine the best transmission modes. According to Orr, the Internet also will become smart enough to perform business analytics enabling the Web to understand users better and to help them find what they want more easily.

That automation leads to what Orr believes will be one of the key characteristics of the Web’s future. “The Internet is going to become mobile,” he states. Already, that trend is beginning to take shape. “I think what’s really interesting right now is we see more devices connected to the Internet than people,” Orr says. These devices increasingly take the form of handheld communications tools, not desktops. Orr estimates that by 2013, more than 1 billion mobile devices will have access to the Internet. In that same year, mobile-device connections will surpass traditional access methods until they make up 90 percent of online interactions, he predicts.

Eventually, this mobility and sensor applications will lead to buildings, communities and even cities that are interconnected on the Web. Orr says buildings in various global locations exist that way now, with lights, heating, cooling and other functions controlled automatically through the Internet. “We see that continuing to expand,” he says.

 
Cisco recently entered into the sports and entertainment market and has helped in the creation of connected facilities such as Yankee Stadium and Cowboys Stadium. Patrons are connected through their tickets so information is personalized to them. Orr says the concept raises concerns in terms of privacy, but it offers consumers tailored communications. In addition, this connectivity reduces workload for stadium employees. Through the connected Internet concept, one person can flip a switch to turn on all necessary screens at once, and personnel easily can view what requires maintenance or broadcast messages to all the machines linked into the network.

Another one of Orr’s features of the future Internet—cloud computing—also already has seen implementation. “The hot thing, and you see it probably everywhere you go, is cloud computing and what it’s going to bring,” Orr says. According to him, the cloud is growing at six times the rate of traditional information offerings, six times faster than groups building their own data centers. “It comes down to how do I quickly enable applications,” he explains.

Federal government customers need to focus on secure clouds because these groups are mission-oriented. In cases such as the military, the data residing in the networks could affect whether people live or die, so protection is of the utmost importance. Defense users need to examine tactical mobility for their data and how to push command and control information to the far edges of the network. Many military organizations including the Defense Information Systems Agency are putting clouds in place to better facilitate information sharing and storage.

As apps continue to grow in number and importance, securing data also becomes more critical. The smart network will help control what various devices will access, but organizations will have to make decisions about what apps will reside on which mobile devices. Orr explains that organizations usually set up firewalls, but over time putting every application behind such protection will become more difficult. As additional services move to open access and open databases, more people will see information than in the past, and groups will have to change their security.

Orr says Cisco is focused now and moving into the future on cybersecurity leadership. This involves trust, visibility and resilience on the networks. Trust entails understanding who is on a network; visibility encompasses what those users can access; and resilience relates to how quickly the network can come back online in the event of an attack.

Rather than causing limits to who can see what, Orr believes that U.S. military and private-industry organizations will empower their people to access more information at their fingertips than ever before. One trend in securing this information is virtualization through which images of data are passed, but not the actual data. That way, if someone loses a laptop or BlackBerry, the data itself is not lost. Orr predicts virtual footprints to increase as the Internet evolves.

Combined, all these factors and trends mean, “The network no longer has an edge,” Orr says. “We’ll be continuing to reach out to any device at any time.” Cisco expects to be a leader of pushing high-definition video out across that whole network, enabling users to switch between chat, voice and video with little hassle, and for the toggling to be available through mobile devices.

This technology is a staple of television now, but Orr expects it to become a fixture in other places as well. The Cisco voice over Internet protocol phones currently used in offices and battlefields around the world soon could come equipped with video features, so callers can see and hear those on the other end. The military has seen an exponential increase in full-motion and high-definition video use over the last few years, largely driven by feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles.

Kurt Roemer, the chief security strategist at Citrix, also sees trends for the future Internet, which he says will be a highly immersive environment. “[Web] 3.0 is really about lifestyle,” he explains. However, rather than putting emphasis on devices of the future, he says the physical tools will fade in importance compared to Web services. The focus will be “more on computing than the computers themselves,” Roemer says.

He explains that unlike in the past when people had to understand hardware well to make computing happen, individuals and organizations now can use pay-as-they-go models to access services operated by others. Often, these resources are available in cloud environments. Roemer is regarded as a thought leader in this field; he recently was appointed as a commissioner on TechAmerica Foundation’s Commission on the Leadership Opportunity in U.S. Deployment of the Cloud (Cloud2). The commission will provide the current presidential administration with advice for deploying and making policies about cloud computing. Recommendations will be presented to Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer.

Roemer says the Internet environment is becoming all about how users interact with each other both personally and professionally and how applications help users manage all their resources in one place. This change in the perception of the Internet breaks down silos that formerly divided information so that it never touched. Roemer believes individuals, especially those in the younger generation, already have embraced cross-collaboration, but businesses are slow to follow for cultural reasons.

However, change already is taking place. Roemer references www.salesforce.com as an early example of professional people managing contacts, opportunities and other information in a single place. This cloud environment offers applications for sales and for customer service, and he expects such offerings to increase moving forward.

Citrix is a company known for virtualization products, and its officials believe that technology will grow in popularity in the future. As organizations enrich their computer environments, more users will need to connect into them to access services they need. This shift in computing will require more interoperability with fewer proprietary technologies. Roemer says there is more push from consumers for transparency in business and government; this transparency can be built into cloud services.

The implementation of virtualization will take place in phases. In the simplest phase, people use the services to consolidate servers and reduce costs. Virtualization also will provide rich apps from desktops to any devices, enhancing user experiences. Eventually it will help identify users as well as show individuals’ likes, dislikes and agreements. People will have more interaction with each other as they remotely participate in discussions.

In addition, virtualization will offer benefits on the battlefield, providing troops with information such as longitude, latitude and vehicle locations superimposed on maps. It also could identify forces and risks. “That level of virtualization is going to give instant access that will give life-saving information to warfighters,” Roemer says.

Another key aspect of the Web future that Roemer identifies is networking. Groups need to tie all their information together. Back-end services require rich networks where users can access copies of data faster. When organizations construct these networks, they also have to be mindful to protect privacy and mitigate security risks.

Similar to Orr, Roemer sees Web 3.0 as a collaborative immersion in which everyday objects will respond better to people’s needs through their Internet connectivity. He says one excellent example of how the world is evolving to the next phase of the Web is meetings run with his company’s High Definition User Experience. The tool moves presenters past showing their documents online to collaborating in an integrated space that allows interaction with other people in a meeting.

One Web 2.0 feature that he believes will fall by the wayside, at least in the business world, is avatar-based platforms such as Second Life. In professional interactions, people want to see facial expressions or real information about others around them, not cartoon figures with fake names. Accessing as much information as possible with as few clicks as possible will be a major part of Internet usage going forward, Roemer predicts.

All these new features of the Internet put its users in more danger of exposing sensitive information. “I really believe there are some fundamental changes needed in security,” Roemer states. Most protection today comes in the form of looking for attacks and providing access only to authorized individuals. But once those users are in, they can cut, copy and even exfiltrate data they should leave in place.

Roemer says organizations instead should focus on a rich knowledge of the data itself and the people accessing it. Then, officials can tell if requests come at strange times or if they should require some supervisory approval. Protecting data on that level allows groups to move forward with cloud computing and virtualization while protecting privacy.

Both Roemer and Orr foresee that the constant access to information and other people that Web 3.0 enables could make separating professional and personal lives even more difficult than it is now. Employees may have to delineate clearly when they are unavailable for reasons such as sleep or personal celebrations. Those times might not always be hours traditionally considered as “off the clock” in the past. Roemer explains that future capabilities could help with these distinctions.

“Today, business doesn’t have any way of seeing how it’s interfering with personal life, and employees don’t have any way to [input] that information,” he says. Through collaborative tools, employees could share information about themselves with people internal and external to their organization. This data could include which telephone numbers they would like to share with clients or blocks of time they have available.

Another way both Web 3.0 and Web 2.0 affect personal interaction in the professional environment is through the generation now entering the work force. “Their primary communication method is texting,” Roemer says. “They don’t pick up the phone unless they absolutely have to. That forces me as a business leader to think about how we’re going to communicate with them.”

Managers also have to keep tabs on employees’ styles and quality of communications. Employees accustomed to social media and open sharing of everything may inadvertently share proprietary information. Along with technical security changes mandated by the new Internet, changes to human security behaviors also may be necessary to protect sensitive information.

Put together, Roemer says, he sees organizations moving to a more flexible environment, emphasizing that employers must take into account the best way to use their people. “Human capital is becoming more and more important,” he states. Employees can benefit through deep collaborative interactions between employees and customers and by having the freedom to operate at their peak times, rather than during rigid, predetermined office hours.

Organizations also will have to be flexible about future plans to optimize their business. Groups can lock themselves into five-year road maps, but “now you have to design for agility,” Roemer explains. Putting into place this kind of open environment along with taking advantage of the capabilities of the future Web will create a culture that can thrive in these disruptive times.

Discuss this series and the future of the Internet
at this month’s blog post:

www.afcea.org/signal/signalscape/?p=12524

WEB RESOURCES
Cisco Government Defense: www.cisco.com/web/strategy/government/defense.html
Citrix: www.citrix.com
TechAmerica Foundation’s Cloud2 Commission: www.techamericafoundation.org/cloud-commission