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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Email circa 2012 Could Feel Like 1992 - and that's probably a good thing

Alan Leinwand over at the excellent GigaOm blog posted some thoughts about the future of data centers. His post was inspired when Intel announced their plan to have a 80-core processor by 2012. is very conceivable that by 2012 we could have Intel-powered servers with 80-core processors interconnected by one-hundred-gigabits-per-second Ethernet connections. To fully utilize the processing power in these servers, they will probably run virtualization software that isolates processors to virtual run-time environments.
Whoa! 80-core processors with 100 gigabit Ethernet is an amazing amount of compute power. Just imagine the types of hosted applications that could be created to serve business needs, especially when applied to next-generation email and communication infrastructures.

Before I talk about what Email could be like in 2012, lets hark en back to email's nascent days. Email circa 1992 was dominated by cc:Mail, MHS, DaVinci, MCI Mail, Compuserve, AT&T Mail, proprietary gateways, dial-up connections and MS DOS single-tasking email clients. During this time period Email started to mature from a novelty to a must-have communication infrastructure. Proprietary gateways and "closed" networks like MCI Mail gave way to SMTP gateways and higher speed Internet connections. The merits of SMTP and X.400 protocols were debated, and ultimately SMTP won the hearts of email administrators world-wide. The downside is SMTP's ease of use and openness is also its Achilles heel. While this openness was initially attractive (how many of you remember what it was like to configure a closed system AT&T Gateway? - not pretty!), the SMTP protocol has brought a lot of pain and suffering with out of control spam and virus problems. It's easy for me to write this now, with 20/20 hindsight, and identify where different choices could have had profound positive changes on our life today.

A popular saying these days is "we are where we are" - meaning we can't do anything about what is done, but hopefully we learn from the past and chart a path for a better tomorrow.

So what does all this have to do with 80-core processor Intel chips? And why should email in the future start to look more like the past? Because we (the email industry) need to shake things up and start to lay the foundation for a new way for us as individuals, and groups, to communicate electronically. And this new way will probably look a lot like the old way. We need secure interconnected systems that guarantee message delivery, enforce identity and authentication, so we don't have to worry about unlawful spammers and out of control email-borne viri. We need systems that treat electronic communication systems like a "utility" - meaning it's assumed to just work all the time, like electricity and water. We need communication systems that have built-in compliance and policy controls, while at the same time preserving the privacy each of us deserves with our own personal missives. We need something like a modern version of MCI Mail (don't throw anything at me :).

80-core processor, 100 gigabit Ethernet, virtualized "monster" servers will be the perfect platform to sustain the "utility"-based communication systems of the future.

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