This is a continuation of a previous post and focuses on one of six tenets identified in the previous post. In this post I will focus on service orientation.
Another trend expected to impact the systems of the Future, is the appliance approach to systems engineering. Today, capabilities are integrated into bigger and bigger machines, each with all the elements needed to operate on their own, such as monitors, keyboards, etc. This approach has resulted in the development of applications that are dependent upon an integrated architectural model Side effects caused by this approach have unwittingly led to a number of problems for many different types of users.
- The creation of major points-of-failure within systems architectures
- Herculean logistical efforts required to mobilize a capability
- Overwhelming configuration and administration effort
- Limited scalability within existing architectures
- Tightly bound system-level dependencies
- Limited ability to take only what is needed. No scales of economy with respect to establishing and later growing capabilities
- Architectural limits for single system processors and memory constrain the potential of information processing efficiency
At some point the bigger-box approach begins to unravel, especially in mobile environments. In today’s littoral environment, users need the flexibility to mobilize a capability rapidly, with little logistical overhead, little support from expert users, and scale it as the situation allows or demands without carrying thousands of pounds of computing hardware.
Commercially, the industry has moved to appliance-based solutions and embraced secure-wireless communication models. This approach has proven to have a number of advantages over the current bigger-box approach:
- Capabilities are more narrowly defined and are often separated to allow more modular system options. The resulting capabilities are more loosely coupled providing for both stand-alone and connected operations. This helps in system scalability and reduces the impacts of failed components or communication availability. This reinforces black-box engineering techniques required to realize a fully scalable mobile capability.
- Maintenance and services are simplified given the nature of plug-and-use implementation models.
- Appliances focus on more discreet elements of a capability allowing developers to better define the experience for both trained and untrained operators. Consider the commercial TiVO digital recorder. This is a great example of an appliance that despite all its advanced options, is easy to implement and can be mastered by an untrained operator in very little time. This same model could lead to the implementation of new acoustic and signal processing appliances, system/mission status and alerting systems, aircrew kiosk services, briefing and collaboration support, and more.
- Appliances can be shaped to meet the needs of the operating environment making them more mobile, rugged, compact, ergonomic, etc. Consider the emerging options for flexible touch screen-enabled liquid crystal displays and advances in embedded computing equipment. While still not currently widely available, these will be available for future systems. As an example, aircraft/vehicle maintenance crews could keep up-to-date on changing schedules in the field using secure-wireless links, have access to technical references, be tied in to alert and notification systems signaling arrival of parts and pending emergency landings. Aircrews can have ready access to mission briefing material, imagery, and more.
There are a number of encouraging trends within industry today that will further empower developers and engineers with the tools to rapidly host/re-host applications and capabilities across a scaled range of operating hardware to include traditional rich clients, enterprise servers, virtual environments, thin clients, tablets, embedded and PDA devices, and others. Major OS vendors are all working on solutions to further abstract hardware from software, increase binary compatibility across OS boundaries, and enhance runtime portability. When appliance models are coupled with human engineering practices, service-oriented and distributed processing architectures, natural interface devices, and presence and discovery technology it opens the door for a whole new generation of mission support solutions.