Technology as a utility has different connotations depending on where one is. In the developed world, it takes the form of grid computing. In the emerging markets, it means making technology affordable by pricing it on a monthly installments basis. In both cases, the common aspect is the way technology is viewed: as something which is always available, just like electricity.
First, let us take a look at grid computing. Ryan Rhodes, writing in eServer Magazine (June 2002), puts the concept in perspective:
Rather than countless PCs sharing tasks, imagine a large cluster of mainframes and other servers acting as a single integrated computing system that can be accessed by home- or business-based PCs. Beyond simply sharing files and information, users can access an extensive grid of high-end enterprise computers via the Internet, using idle compute cycles to crunch massive amounts of data. Certified users could access super-computing resources, computing clusters, data-storage systems, data sources and even network with other grid users. Taking it even further, users could create entire virtual organizations with complex business processes running remotely. The only costs involved are likely to be those charged to lease grid resources.
Proponents are convinced that grid computing will be the next logical evolution of the Internet, in essence, bringing the power of mainframes to the masses. According to Anne MacFarland of The Clipper Group, Inc., Today we price systems based on things like processors and disk capacity. Grid computing begs the evolution of a new unit price for computing that can dynamically respond to the users ability to solicit bids for the best computing rates. This, in turn, will allow enterprises to rethink what is done with in-house systems.
Adds The Mind Electric, which develops software for service-oriented architectures, about how grid computing is likely to evolve:
Grid computing platforms operate in a similar manner to the National electricity grid, transparently connecting producers and consumers of services while shielding them from issues like fail over, load balancing and clustering.
In the past, grid-computing platforms were positioned primarily as a way to make use of spare CPU cycles. But now that web services have become popular, they are rapidly becoming viewed as a promising architecture for supporting large-scale service-oriented architectures. IBM’s new CEO, Sam Palmisamo, recently said, “the grid is the ultimate method whereby you can establish this seamless, open standard computing model”.
When a consumer wants a service, a Grid can quickly locate one or more services of the specified type. In addition, if a particular service fails, the Grid will automatically reconnect the consumer to an equivalent service.
Grids are equally well suited for connecting producers and consumers of data. When a consumer wants a particular kind of data, it can perform a query and obtain the location of one or more matches. If there is heavy demand for a specific piece of data, it is automatically replicated to other nodes on the grid.
An example of how grid computing is making technology a utility is provided by Aaron Ricadela writing in Information Week (June 17, 2002):
At Pratt Whitney, the calculus that shapes decisions can get pretty precise. The $7.7 billion aerospace-engineering division of the manufacturing conglomerate United Technologies Corp. employs hundreds of engineers to run complex computations that simulate airflow through jet engines and test stress on materials. Pete Bradley, the company’s associate fellow for high-intensity computing, isn’t about to ask his team to line up to access centralized computers. Instead, engineers solve problems on deadline by running jobs on a computational “grid” comprising 8,000 computer chips inside 5,000 workstations across three cities. “We no longer talk about things like, ‘We saved X number of dollars’–it’s just part of our business,” Bradley says. “We couldn’t live without it.”
We cannot live without it. That is what a Utility is. That is what Technology is set to become.
Tomorrow: Tech Utility (continued)