Using one computer to help another, load sharing, is not a new idea. Nor is the idea of connecting many computers together to work as one. Almost thirty years ago large mainframes - with less computing capacity than today's simplest PCs - were hooked together through their communications channels and some of the most sophisticated contemporary software assigned jobs in the queue to whatever computer had available capacity. Networked load balancing was a good idea then, but that was long ago and the hardware and software were primitive, inefficient, and prone to hiccups and glitches - they were just not up to the job.
Using many computers together, the grid, has been discussed for decades. A good idea, but until recently, the complexities and cost of productive grid computing were insurmountable. Good ideas do not die; they just lie low until their time comes. Grid computing and networked load balancing are still good ideas today. The latest versions of shared computing and networked load balancing, such as Oracle's 'Grid,' are a far cry from their mainframe based, cave dwelling, ancestors and go far beyond simple load balancing. The Grid, essentially a grid of computers connected by high speed communications and controlled by a standards based management system that can make a somewhat heterogeneous collection of devices and applications function together as one. In theory, the system can be expanded, almost without limit, by adding more applications servers, more data base servers, more storage devices, more computers more communications capacity and the like. At first glance, this seems to be a system made for big business, certainly nothing that a small enterprise could use or swallow. Nevertheless, grid computing brings with it the promise of a revolution in computing for small businesses - especially in the developing regions of the world. Small businesses rarely have the resources - the cash, the time, the manpower, or the energy - to invest in information and communications technology. In most cases, they have not got the technical knowledge to deal with such systems and in much of the world the workers in small businesses are functionally illiterate - they may be able to read a bit and write, but their understanding is severely limited. They do not lack intelligence, most of the human race, until recently, was truly illiterate and, yet, managed to produce great civilizations. These workers in much of the world may lack opportunity and formal educations, but as a group, they have basic, inborn, abilities comparable to any similar sized group in the developed economies. They lack tools that do not require first world skills, tools that will help them do their job better, tools that do not require users have a first world education to get real help. Most important, they need tools that pay back their cost. We tend to think these neglected workers cannot pay for the sophisticated tools that ICT provides; yet mechanics the world over buy tools, seamstresses buy sewing machines, stores by stock, workers of all sorts buy what they need to do business - and they all pay for what they buy. They do not, though, buy or pay for gadgets, services or products that do not give them a return on the money spent. If they do, they do not eat. They may not know what return-on-investment means, but they know a payback when they see it. Today, ICT does not give these small companies, these workers, a return on their investment. We have little to offer them but talk. That is not to say that ICT cannot help, they can - they can make all the difference in the world. The technology exists, but we have yet to find a way to apply it to the basic problems of underdeveloped humans - wherever they are in the world. Dealing with the functionally illiterate is a problem even for big companies, big organisations - armies, for example - in even the most developed regions of the world. For the most part, we have nothing to offer yet. Small companies generate the jobs that drive local economies of all developing nations. Most of the workers in developing nations work alone or for very small companies. These companies get little help from local or international programs for digital inclusion; this means the economies themselves get very little useful help from these programs. Could it be we are attacking the wrong end of the problem first? The technology exists to help these companies. We can deliver the goods using simple, rugged, terminals, even handheld devices - built to withstand the worst - linked by broadband, or even WiFi transmitted from the local payphone post. Telephone companies and other providers can run the services these companies really need from grid type installations. The equipment can be rented from the provider and the services charged for, like phone service or electricity, according to use. There is nothing really new here; industry visionaries and leaders have talked of similar solutions - although not for very small unsophisticated business, - for years. What, then, is the problem? Why is nothing being done? Why isn't the ICT sector selling hundreds of millions of terminals to small developing world businesses? Why isn't the sector selling all the grid computing systems, the routing, data storage, all the software and everything else to help small businesses? Why isn't the sector doing uncountable billions in business? There is a simple answer. We have no applications, no systems, that give these small businesses a return on their investment. We do not really know what these small businesses need. If we find out what they need, we have no audio/visual working language to deliver the solutions. We have no real idea of what, when where and how to help. I am not much given to visions, but I had one at the recent OracleWorld event in San Francisco. Larry Ellison, Chairman and CEO of Oracle, Carly Fiorino, Chairman and CEO of HP, Scott Mc Nealy, Chairman and CEO of Sun, Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel and Michael Dell, Chairman and CEO of Dell were all there. Five of the most important leaders, five of the most respected thinkers and visionaries in the ICT sector, were at the same event sharing their ideas. I remembered, then, the five stars from different teams, each marvellous in their own right, America's basketball ""Dream Team"" at the 1992 Olympics. The idea, the vision, of a Dream Team to deal with the problems of small businesses in the developing world took hold and has not let go since.