Moore's Law: How Long Will it Stay on the Books?
We no longer have supersonic airliners. And we never did get scheduled moon flights or personal commuter helicopters. But computing power, from supercomputers to smartphones, is still growing by leaps and bounds. This rapid pace of improvement is often described by Moore's Law: Processing power doubles every two years.
That is how it has been for decades. And the result for the IT community at midsize firms has been an ongoing revolution in which the entire ecosystem changes almost out of recognition in a decade or two. The revolution is likely to continue, say experts, for some time to come.
As Stephen Shankland notes at CNET, Moore's Law was coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore back in 1965. And through most of the nearly half century since then, people have been arguing that processor performance simply couldn't keep doubling every couple of years.
It is not precisely a "law," but for all practical purposes it remains in force. Other technologies have not been like that. For example, airliner performance grew in a similar revolutionary way--with performance roughly doubling each decade--from the 1920s into the 1950s. But today's jetliners have broadly similar performance to the Boeing 707, which made its commercial debut in 1958.
The next step in performance, the supersonic Concorde, turned out to be technically possible but not economically practical. Only a few were built, largely for prestige. All are now retired, and no replacement is even on the drawing board.
So why has computing been different? According to Sam Fuller of Analog Devices, "automobiles and planes are dealing with the physical world ... computing and information processing doesn't have that limitation. There's no fundamental size or weight to bits."
Processing power is mainly about etching circuit structures into silicon chips. And it has increased because we have been able to etch finer and finer structures. Eventually a physical limit will be reached: the size of individual silicon atoms. But as recently noted here at Midsize Insider, technologies such as quantum computing could bypass even that limit.
What all this means for IT managers at midsize firms is that the revolution will probably keep happening. Things that are cutting-edge now--typically requiring costly specialized technology--will probably be routine desktop tools in another decade or so. Even more significant, processing power will enable things we haven't even thought of. Who was talking about "social" as an IT tool and business strategy a decade ago.
In IT, the only thing constant may be surprise.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.