One factor that may limit how fast information-hosted technology will evolve is the availability of talented people. Almost every information industry has a huge shortage of talented people who are needed to create next-generation systems. In many classical telephone companies, those who run the systems have an average education of high school plus one year of community college. Companies are introducing into this global information infrastructure some of the most sophisticated technology ever created and asking people with little background to take care of the systems. The switching speed of a human neuron is unlikely to change in the next 20 years, “and this has consequences in almost all layers of the protocol stack with regard to how the information age is going to evolve.”
First is the limit to how much new technology and techniques people can absorb. The human challenges of dealing with technology will be significant in terms of its penetration and use. The challenges in software engineering will be equally daunting. Dr. Aho said that he began a course he taught by asking the students to estimate the total number of lines of software required to support the world’s telecommunications infrastructure. The students’ answers began with a few thousand and ranged upward to perhaps a million. In fact, Lucent’s most advanced switch has somewhere between 10 and 15 million lines of code; Windows NT has about 35 million lines of code. Few people, he said, pay attention to how hard it is to evolve the huge software systems that support the new kinds of applications.
Moving up to the application layer of the protocol stack, Dr. Aho said, we see the emergence of new classes of Application Service Providers (ASPs) that provide services unimaginable just five years ago. Some 500 new entrants have emerged in just a few years. Some of them are joining to form economic “ecosystems,” in which they partner with other ASPs to provide suites of services tailored to certain segments of the industry. He cited an estimated growth rate of the ASP market of over 90 percent to $2 billion by 2003. This joining, done largely from economic necessity, produces another layer of complexity and potential difficulties in how business will be conducted.
In addition to new kinds of service providers and services, Web-based provisioning of transport services will enable bandwidth trading that will function like a NASDAQ market. One can imagine any kind of service available on the net-