1995 was a pretty big year in IT.
Almost 40 million people had Internet access, and that new-fangled email thing was catching on. The nascent World Wide Web was exploding.
Though some predicted the Internet wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans in the long run, many more went all in, kicking off what would become known as the dot.com boom:
- Netscape, Microsoft, and Opera all launched their first web browsers.
- Search engine AltaVista came online.
- Amazon and Ebay opened up shop.
- Jerry Yang and David Filo registered Yahoo.com.
- Hotmail launched.
Despite all this online activity, in 1995 a typical small or mid-sized business handled nearly all of its networking and computing on site. IT closets were crammed with servers plugged into hubs and bridges.
Beige ruled in this land of office PCs. Everything was wired. And enormous.
In September, Microsoft made history with the launch of Windows 95, which, for the first time, added a graphical user interface to the company’s operating system. The product raked in $30 million in its first day of sale.
Floppy disks, the 3.5” kind, were still plentiful though were slowly being supplanted by CDs.
Phones sat on desks and were connected through wires. Cell phones — while not quite the bricks they used to be — were still big and relatively uncommon. No one had a Palm device.
Software was purchased in a literal box and installed by hand on computers or servers.
All of this hardware was typically maintained by a team of IT specialists. It wasn’t uncommon for a company of under 50 employees to have four or five full-time IT people: a database specialist, a network specialist, a desktop specialist, and so on.
If you managed an IT network in 1995, you probably handled Novell, Microsoft NT, and UNIX. And though user-facing operating systems were moving to a GUI, you spent your day in the command-line interface.
That was then. This is now.
In 2015, more than three billion people worldwide have Internet access. Email is ubiquitous, along with instant messaging and texting.
There are nearly 1 billion websites online right now, and that number climbs by the second. Good, unused dot.com domain names are scarce on the ground, giving rise to dozens of new top-level domains to satisfy demand.
And that typical small to mid-sized office now?
Laptops, not desk-bound PCs.
Smartphones (likely brought from home by employees) that come on and off the corporate network throughout the day. Wi-Fi everywhere.
VoIP for desk phones — if the company even has desk phones anymore.
Storage? It’s all in the cloud. All automatic.
Software is also in the cloud. Users buy and use what they want as they need it. They no longer need to go through IT for that.
Companies still have network infrastructure on site — routers and switches have largely taken the places of hubs and bridges, and now there are wireless controllers, firewalls, perhaps a load balancer. But most of those servers are gone.
So is the specialized team that used to maintain them. Now, a company of 50 employees might have one IT administrator, a generalist who keeps everything running.
The budget that IT used to have for purchasing equipment and software for the office, and completing complex projects, has shifted away. It’s been allocated to finance, marketing, HR, and the other lines of business so they can buy the SaaS tools they need.
No one knows what a DOS interface looks like anymore — except the IT administrator, who’s still working in the CLI all these years later.
All right. So what? What’s the upshot of all this change?
In 2015, the IT function is more critical to business than it has ever been. In 1995, a user could work happily and productively all day long and not once need to access the Internet. Not being able to print was an inconvenience, sure, but they could do something else while that was being fixed.
Now, if the network goes down, so does the business. Every system and every person in an organization relies on the network to get things done.
And yet, IT no longer has the specialists or the budget to manage this business-critical operation. To make things worse, the IT administrator’s tools have not kept pace with change.
It’s no wonder that in-house IT teams are struggling.
IT is overdue for a system that makes network operations easier, a system that recognizes the nature of today’s hyper-connected businesses.