Renowned futurist George Gilder first discussed cloud computing with colleagues nearly 20 years ago. Now, Gilder is looking beyond the cloud and predicting a new kind of network that could boost universities’ computing power.

Gilder delivered his predictions at an ed-tech meeting during the InfoComm Conference in Orlando, where educators and campus IT officials came to see the latest products from technology companies and attend lectures on how higher education can better use computers and multimedia devices.

Gilder, a best-selling author and long-time advocate of technology and free-market capitalism, spoke in an Educomm keynote speech June 16. Gilder has closely tracked higher education’s embrace of cloud computing–using software that is hosted offsite, rather than spending thousands of dollars cooling and powering on-campus servers–but said using the cloud-based approach soon could be obsolete. Instead, “storm computing,” which Gilder said would enhance computing capabilities with a much faster network, will attract public and private sector IT administrators in the coming years.

“It’s a bigger development than is often understood,” Gilder, 69, said about cloud computing, which he described as a critical first step to true software virtualization. “When networks became faster than computers,” he said, the only logical solution was to switch to offsite cloud-computing data centers.

Rea Burleson, campus information officer at the University of South Florida Polytechnic, said he hadn’t yet heard of Gilder’s “storm computing” theory, but added that the days of massive hardware purchases–a major contributor to skyrocketing IT costs in higher education–are coming to an end.

“There’s going to be a point where I won’t have to buy hardware or local licenses or anything like that,” said Burleson, the university’s CIO since 1995.

Gilder, a Harvard University graduate, recalled talking to technologists at Sun Microsystems in the early 1990s about the inevitable limits of microprocessors and the solution of moving to a cloud-computing system. Eventually, he said, computer companies would risk “sizzling [microprocessors] like a frying pan” in the never-ending effort to increase computer speed.

Gilder first wrote about the potential impact of cloud computing three years ago–before technology companies and higher education began turning to the cloud en masse.

Gilder was optimistic about the innovation that could come from the world’s economic downturn. He pointed out that the rise of the microchip came from the slumping economy of the 1970s and said he expects the current recession to be “a golden era of … technology.”

“Do not relax in a recession,” said Gilder, pointing out that technology helps people innovate to overcome financial shortcomings, as nearly all U.S. colleges and universities are facing this year: “A recession is the mother of invention.”

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George Gilder