Sunday, January 19, 2003

Architecture: A Blueprint for Introducing Disruptive Technology Into the Internet

Innovative technology leaders are always preoccupied about the next big thing. To get a startup funded for building the next big thing means it must be at least 10 times better, or 10 times cheaper, and have a huge potential market. Better yet, it must disrupt the established way of doing business by distributing power and control in a new way that unseats established players and allows revenue to flow to the innovators.

Java was a disruptive technology which Microsoft tried to crush because it threatened to unseat Windows. Napster was another major disruptive technology on the internet. The music industry crushed it, only to create a multi-headed monster worse than Napster. What is the next great disruptive technology on the Internet? Larry Peterson of Princeton and his colleagues at the University of Washington and Intel think it is enabling a distributed development environment for peer to peer applications that becomes a platform for moving these applications seamlessly into production. Most applications don't have the viral explosion of a Napster, so how do you build, sell, and deploy bread and butter applications that service a market niche? How do you set up the Internet so that typical applications are developed with an infrastructure that solves the performance, security, and usability problems surfaced by applications that use distributed resources on the internet?

Peterson, Larry et al. A Blueprint for Introducing Disruptive Technology Into the Internet. Proceedings of the First ACM Workshop on Hot Topics in Networks (HotNets-I), Princeton, NJ, October 2002.

It's not easy reading, but thinking a new thought is never easy. There are no established concepts and vocabulary to describe it.

Background reading: I cited the classic text on disruptive techology on 22 April 1999 after the CEO of Harvard Business School Press faxed me a copy, saying it was a must read for technical leaders. There is a new edition, hot off the press this month:

Christensen, Clayton M. The Innovator's Dilemma : The Revolutionary National Bestseller That Changed the Way We Do Business. HarperBusiness, 2003.

The compelling point about this book is that it shows how the best managed companies will fail, in spite of doing the right thing every step of the way, in the face of a disruptive technology. The market dynamics are similar to the martial arts (Aikido or JuJitsu) where the more powerful opponent winds up flat on the mat because the weaker opponent uses the attackers energy to neutralize him. It makes Bill Gates and Andy Grove paranoid.


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