After a centuries-long process of centralization within just the past few decades, a new architecture has emerged to our technology infrastructure that fundamentally reverses this process. A technology paradigm that pushes capabilities out to the edges of networks while reducing the cost of connectivity so that these distributed capabilities can be effectively exchanged and coordinated to deliver solutions at scale – a true technology revolution that will transform many aspects of the technology landscape in the coming decades and be a source of profound disruption.
Our traditional industrial systems of technology are based on a centralized model designed to leverage economies of scale through batch processing, as exemplified by centrally controlled systems like power generation plants, factories, and broadcast media which produced technologies and services that were pushed out to end users. Although distributed technologies have always been there on the fringes, today a number of factors are working to fundamentally change this centralized model to a more distributed one, where capabilities and production can also take place at the edges of networks by many different actors.
The development of telecommunications infrastructure is a classic example of this. Traditionally telecommunications infrastructure was developed within a centralized, state-managed model, that required major upfront investment, delivering lines out to every house that were connected up to major exchanges with the service delivered through typically one state-owned monopoly company. But if we look at the emerging infrastructure of rural Africa or Asia today, they often bypass the centralized copper telephone network model altogether, instead implementing a decentralized cellular network, where users buy their own phones, companies compete to put in base stations while other online platforms offer them telephone services through Voice Over IP.
The ongoing development of the smart grid in many nations is another example of the rise of distributed infrastructure technologies. Information systems and alternative energy technologies are working to fundamentally re-architect the network away from the centrally controlled and operated traditional power grids that delivered electricity to end-users towards a distributed architecture where end-users are central as both consumers and producers, but also as managers of the system through smart devices and information about prices and demand.
The same factors that are driving the re-emergence of distributed systems in power grids as viable competitors to the centralized mode are emerging across all domains from digital fabrication in manufacturing to organic farming in agriculture, to car sharing services and drones in transportation, to distributed ledger technology in finance and insurance. This paper looks at the main drivers behind this rise in distributed technologies, we talk about the key structural differences between the centralized and distributed models to technology systems, the process of unbundling, user generated systems, platform technologies, distributed control systems and security.
Publish Date: 3-24-2017
Length: 73 pages
Category: Technology Analysis