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Rapid Growth of Client-Server Networks and Inexpensive Powerful Personal Computers

The continuing explosive sales growth in the last 15 years of ever-more powerful microcomputers (so-called because most of the central processing functions are put on one chip), and especially personal computers (PCs) and client-server networks is well known. The author believes that the improvement in the ratios of computing capability-to-cost in both hardware and software in the last 10 or 15 years has been so dramatic, that even the average com­puter user may be surprised at the latest figures. Thus the author contends that many manufacturing managers and professionals do not yet fully realize the opportunities that the current application software for client-server networks and powerful small computers offer large and small manu­facturing companies alike.
In an article in Fortune magazine (June 14, 1993), the estimated commercial computing cost has declined from a $4 million per MIPS (millioninstructions persecond )in 1965 to one or two thousand dollars per MIPS in 1993 (Source quoted: Computer Economics). In the same article, the authors estimate that IBM has a worldwide installed base of about 50,000 mainframe computers in contrast to 135 million PCs and laptop computers in use. Expected shipments of PCs are predicted to exceed 35 million units per year in 1994, or about double the 16 million PC units shipped in 1987.

To document the growth of client-server networks, an article from the Los Angeles Times (May 25,1994) quotes data from DataQuest, a computer market research firm, that estimates the client-server unit sales have climbed from 250,000 server units in 1988 to 1.5millionserverunits in 1994. This is a 6 fold increase in 6 years. The same sources indicate that 1990 was a peak sales year for about 15,000 mainframe computer units and that sales have since steadily declined to an estimated 8,700 units for 1994, over a 40% drop in about 4 years.

The same L.A. Times article (May 25,1994) describes how Northrop Corporation is an example of many large corpo­rations who are converting from a primary mainframe computer strategy to a client-server computing strategy. The advantages cited are lower costs, more application flexibility, the use of cheaper, off-the-shelf software, and a greater exchange of data and communication between computer applications in the company. The claimed result is an overall gain in productivity to the organization. One example of the new capability provided by the client-server network at lower cost to Northrop was the ability to eliminate hard copies of drawings. Users can retrieve drawings in seconds and then zoom in and out of drawing details on computer screens throughout the company.

The rapid growth of ever more powerful microcomputers and new software at lower costs have made the rapid growth of client-server networks possible. A good example is the rapid progression of the so-called IBM PC systems (and clones) in the last 14 years. The original IBM PC was introduced in 1981, and since then we have seen the market upgrade to the XT, AT, IBM 286, 386,486, and now in 1994, to the Pentium PC model. And of course, Intel has already announced even faster and more advanced successors to the Pentium processor.

In a Fortune magazine article (June 14,1993) the estimated so-called computer industry "power curve" has been the ability of industry to roughly double the computing power for a given price every 18 months! The power curve for PCs in the last few years illustrate this phenomenon.

The PC processing speed (which is a rough index of com­puter power) has increased tremendously in the last dozen years for the same or lower costs. The maximum speed of a PC with the Intel Pentium P54C processor is 166.3 MIPS (million instructions per second) as of March 1994, versus the 0.33 MIPS in the original Intel 8086 processor in the IBM PC of 1981.(Byte Magazine, June 1994,pg 88) So the current "IBM-type" PC now runs about 500 times faster than the original PC at lower cost. Note also that the Intel Pentium processor speed in the range of 100 MIPS is in the range of the typical mainframe computer processor speed and the cost of the Pentium processor is less than $1,000!
The data storage hardware cost per megabyte (1,024,000 bytes) ratio has also been part of computer cost perfor­mance revolution. For example, auxiliary random access high speed memory chips, have declined from over $1700 per megabyte in 1986 to about $40 per megabyte in 1994. The PC hard disk drives have a similar story. One paid $500 for a 5 megabyte hard disk drive for the early PCs and now

one can buy a 420 megabyte drive for $260. This is a decline from $100 per megabyte to $0.64 per megabyte of hard disk storage. At the same time the transfer or access speed for a block of data to and from the PC hard disk has declined from 84 milliseconds to 8 milliseconds in less than 10 years.
Optical disk storage and the CD platter is creating another dramatic technical revolution in data storage and fueling the so-called "multimedia" computer revolution. The abil­ity to store and process large amounts of data at high speeds and low cost creates the opportunity to mix data, sound and graphics on computers.

In contrast to the CD, the popular 5 1/4 inch magnetic floppy disk for PCs originally stored 160,000 bytes and then expanded to 1.2 megabytes. The "CD" started with 640 megabytes of data storage and today is available with 1.3 gigabytes (1 gigabyte = 1,000 megabytes). Computer trade newspaper articles are predicting 10 gigabytes per optical disk platter by 1998, at a cost of 4 cents per megabyte! Manufacturers are currently offering desk top devices with access to 50 optical disk platters, or over 65 gigabytes today. The same device may offer over 500 gigabytes of data storage in a few years. One CD, with 640 megabytes, can store all the words in a complete book shelf containing a full encyclopedia set, a large dictionary and several other books besides.

To be Continued

For balance of this article, click on the below link:

Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 01


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