A new dawn in high-end computing has emerged, according to Gartner, which the analyst has labelled the fourth era in enterprise computing.
Creating the new era are economic forces like globalisation, the rapid pace of change in new areas of IT such as biotechnology and nanotechnology (microchip-based and molecular technology), and worldwide, a higher value placed on intellectual capital over traditional forms of capital like property.
Bob Hayward Gartner's senior vice president of research, Asia-Pacific, said in the first era, the IBM 360 class M/4 computer was the "first class" computer designed for commercial use.
This phase, he said, was driven by the need to automate labour-intensive business processes. Big iron computing and mid-range server architecture has all but died, but is continuing to power on in industries like manufacturing, he said.
The second era of computing was driven by industries' focus on productivity and flatter corporate hierarchies. This in turn created huge challenges on total cost of ownership and made mid-range server architecture popular, Hayward said.
The Internet phenomenon, which emerged in the 1990s, created the third stage of computing where network connectivity to automate separate islands of information was the main IT concern of business, he said.
The world has now reached a fourth phase in enterprise computing, marked by users' need for ubiquitous access to information for their work from wherever they may be in the world, Hayward said. "Now there is more focus on organisations improving their business, enabling new business models, attacking new markets and increasing their efficiency," he said.
Classic examples of innovators in the Internet era were pure-play dotcoms Ebay, Yahoo and Amazon, all of which, Hayward said, "seem to have survived" the Internet industry fallout.
"Organisations are always looking to the next big dream to improve productivity."
Wireless technologies like Bluetooth would be used at some point in the infrastructure of most large companies by late 2002 to 2003, Hayward said.
Steve Tucker, IT manager of regional aircraft service operator National Jet Systems, disagreed with Gartner that the developed world had reached a new stage of enterprise computing.
He argued that Moore's Law of computing -- the idea that chip performance doubled every 18 months, and originated by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 -- underpinned the IT industry's evolution and "still applied" today.
"Computing power is seemingly growing at an exponential rate now, but it has always been growing according to Moore's Law. We are just dealing now with much higher levels of growth in that exponential process than before," he said.
Specifically, Tucker said vendors like AMD had raised the bar in the computing industry and brought unprecedented competition to microprocessing powerhouses such as Intel. Also, companies like Nvidia had pioneered technologies in its processors more advanced than the technology of mainstream CPU manufacturers, he said.
Overall, he believes the profile of the IT industry as a whole has been raised significantly in the last five years or so, and consequently, "generated shareholder interest and therefore competition in all sectors".