In military networks, we saw the demise of grand schemes like Future Combat Systems and Network-Centric Warfare fall victim to budget cuts. But even as some of the Pentagon's ambitious top-down schemes fell by the wayside, troops were implementing the same IP and Ethernet networks in bottom-up fashion, through the proliferation of mini-drones, ruggedized real-time systems based on VPX and Micro TCA, and the like.
If a small military team in Afghanistan creates an ad-hoc network with 12 hand-tossable Raven drones, linked to a larger Predator drone and a workstation inside an armored personnel carrier, is that any less a “future combat system” than one designed from above?
The semantics get even stickier as we move down to highly-distributed real-time sensor networks of smart dust. If tiny nodes with 8-bit microcontrollers and radio chips, distributed throughout the Amazon rainforest, are treated as an embedded whole, does the western half of Brazil become an intelligent system?
Maybe the best way of exiting this conundrum is to stop making a distinction between IT systems used explicitly for data processing, and the intelligent systems making real-time data acquisition and collation a 24/7/365 proposition. After all, with most data repositories and heavy number-crunching moving to the cloud, that cloud will be overwhelmed with a mix of standard IT and so-called “embedded” data. In another ten years, IT as traditionally defined may amount to a very small percentage of the processing whole.
Instead, we can accept some version of IDC’s "intelligent systems" moniker and make more relevant distinctions within the market. Analysts could look at the mix of 8-, 16-, 32-, 64-bit, and multicore microprocessors being sold. They could look at the new dominance of ARM over MIPS, x86, and the like. They could track the continued survival of alternative protocols to Ethernet, while following Ethernet’s dominance. They could examine the wealth of traditional desktop and handheld operating systems, tracking them against the rise of real-time operating systems in applications where real-time had not been considered. And at some point, the "embedded" notion would be ditched as largely meaningless.
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