ALL QUIET ON THE DATAFRONT?
by Peter H. Nelson 1996
A flash of light and a loud click greet you as
the microguard lets you into the war room. As
you enter, you are visually assaulted by the
dark roots of the network. They lay entangled
and exposed by the swift current of change, but
they still remain connected: here to a cable
patch rack and banks of modems; and there to
telephone and network routers... a row of unix
workstations stretches into the far distance. A
four-processor SMP stands symmetrically proud
behind it's little processing brothers. A
strategic build up is in progress. There are
plans for a robot operated tape silo. Rapid
deployment of backups to any part of the known
network is now required rather than
conventional mainframe forces. The star wars
program is being talked about again and a space
saving SP2 may be needed to ensure stability in
the new world wide order!
Ah, but all is not well on the charcoal-grey
checkered floor of the datafield. The wounded
and dying DEC VAXstations lie on the ashen floor
unloved and unplugged. Even the name of their
former country has changed. A lone Digital Alpha
stands tall like the defiant sentinel of an
empire in political upheaval.
A black IBM mainframe looms darkly in the corner
like Darth Vader's tree house. It has fallen
from its lofty perch onto the cold, hard field
of even-playing. Mainframe disk and tape
cabinets stand in military formation protecting
their beloved leader. The blue storm-troopers
stand guard against the next attack, all too
keenly aware of the recent cutbacks. Many
gigabytes of their former comrades have been
moth-balled to await shipment to some unknown
destination. Like toxic waste, no-one wants them
in their backyard. They huddle together for
support and shelter like the homeless that they
are. A wasted life in a packing crate,
inconsolable in the knowledge that even for
free, their service is unwanted by an uncaring
Lost and alone, a Macintosh frantically tries to
keep up with the daily deluge of microsoft mail.
But this postal-worker's grip on real-time mail
processing has, sadly, already been lost. Only
stricter gun control can prevent a massacre of
Big-Mac-eaters. All the while, its bigger unix
cousins sit unconcerned nearby, looking forward
to the day when all the mail is IMAP and can be
processed by them.
A radical element in the back is secretly
planning a revolution. The people are guaranteed
free speech! and we will give it to them!
Distributed Computing will be a friendly
Environment - but is making all the soldiers
equal a desirable thing? Douglas Adams' Babel
fish "by effectively removing all barriers to
communication between different races and
cultures has caused more and bloodier wars than
anything else in the history of creation"...
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Lurking in the next room are a bank of ominous
red cylinders with attached plumbing thrusting
cruelly into the ceiling panels and reaching out
over the checkered floor. Should the sparks fly
for real on the datafront, the final solution will
be to drop halon gas on the combatants to put the
 Douglas Adams: "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Galaxy" Pocket Books NY 1979
This work was inspired by a visit to the computer room at Boston College, where my
wonderfully wicked wife, Jaqui, works as manager of
A copy of this article is available for free
electronic distribution. Pete's
written permission is required for commercial publication.
No computers were harmed during the making of this article.
© Peter H. Nelson 1996
Last Updated March 2, 1996.