What NASA’s Curiosity rover tells us about networks

The latest mission to Mars is an object lesson in why even the best BYOD programs may not be enough to satisfy the needs of employees or customers

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It’s one small step for NASA, one giant leap for consumer technology.

Amid the usual interest over the latest space mission to Mars, a recent story on Computerworld pointed out that, for all its impressive design, the Curiosity rover’s inner workings are no more powerful than the average smartphone. Two computers (a regular and a backup), with only four single-core processors, are all that’s been included for a machine that has travelled more than 350 million miles to find out if life on Mars is possible.

The Mars Curiosity rover demonstrates a real tipping point that’s happening within IT, a shift not only in the way technology evolves but in what users expect from it. Traditionally, the most sophisticated technologies were first deployed by the world’s largest businesses and governments. Automakers, aerospace firms and, yes, NASA would hire the best engineers and to create the most innovative hardware and software to do what once seemed impossible, like space travel. Eventually, some portion of those features and functionality would make their way into the kind of everyday consumer technology that we all use, beginning with calculators and eventually personal computers.

Seemingly overnight, the situation has reversed itself. NASA, faced with an eight-year development cycle for the Curiosity rover, is stuck using what now seem like old-fashioned PowerPC chips, while consumers whine about dual-core or even quad-core laptops that won’t let them log onto Facebook fast enough.

The heightened expectations of consumers has forced companies to think seriously about bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs that let them use IT that may be more up to date than what the average enterprise can afford. NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is a good reminder that BYOD programs may not be enough, however. If an organization with NASA’s resources is creating solutions that are essentially obsolete from an IT perspective before they launch, how can the average company’s online services expect to satisfy the IT needs of not only employees but customers who are seeing more tightly integrated and sophisticated technologies in their smartphones every day?

No matter what it discovers over the course of its mission on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover will be judged in part by its performance: If it collapses in reaction to harsh physical conditions, but also if it fails to capture information properly. The same is true of enterprise IT. Companies that offer BYOD but fail to optimize their network to achieve maximum performance on those devices will never reach the business outcomes that matter to them. As we’re all slowly beginning to realize, this ain’t rocket science.

Ready for liftoff? Read Frost & Sullivan’s The IP Imperative: The Time to Upgrade Your Network is Now

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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  1. Comment left with my single-core computer

    Scott Dallas Espenschied / 10 years ago
    • Oh believe me, I realize not everyone has the latest and greatest. Even me, and I’m a technology journalist! Thanks for reading.

      Shane Schick / 10 years ago