Friday, January 12, 2007

The world only needs 5 computers

Back in November 2006, Greg Papadopoulos, Sun's CTO, offered up a Blog positing that the compute world will consolidate down to 5 big compute facilities (i.e. Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, eBay, I might humbly also add a carrier like Verizon... Not that anybody won't have laptops, and not that enterprises won't have data centers. It's just that the really large, generalizable, economy-of-scale computing will become outsourced and centralized.

And hey, it's happening already - and any IT professional (and even small business owner?) has to start thinking about it:
  • Applications are being delivered as a "service" both on - and on their sister site, AppExchange. In fact, AppExchange is essentially a community where 3rd-parties can contribute compatible applications that then hosts as a service.
  • Google (and others) are dipping their toe in the water (and more!) by providing applications like calendars, spreadsheets & productivity tools, and others, in a hosted environment - they store all data - and not just documents. i.e. I used their Browser Synch to store all bookmarks, personal preferences, etc. -- so, no matter what computer I sit down at, I have my entire browser preferences available. Doesn't this really begin to blur the line between local computing and what happens in the "cloud"? hey, and maybe stay tuned for the much-rumored "Gdrive"...
  • - here's the big entrant - offering-up their "Elastic Compute Cloud" (EC2) as well as their "simple storage service" (S3), and even a queueing service. Users can leverage Amazon's huge IT infrastructure by creating virtual machines of any flavor and deploying applications of their choice on them, using the EC2 storage, etc. It's getting to the point where I won't need a backup drive, and IT managers don't need a single in-house server.
So, consider this: the picture above confirms that the compute world is moving toward "compute utilities".

How are we going to get there? 2 ways - "Build" and "transition".
  • Build - well, that's exactly what the above companies are doing - it requires lots of capital, and a huge user base. And the race is off...
  • Transition - by this I mean, decreasing the barriers-to-adoption of using these resources. For example, on the consumer side, look at things like JungleDisk, a new entrant, that makes it simple & accessible for anyone with a PC to use the Amazon S3 - and for only $0.15/month/GB. I might not need a hard drive soon. And for example, on the enterprise side, consider utility automation controllers like Collage, where compute requirements will be assigned to the most economically-advantageous resources -- either in-house, or perhaps, to Amazon's EC2!
I know the electricity analogy is getting old - but it's really happening in computing: we're moving from lots of different home-owned "generators" with their unique 1-off construction - the way it was at the dawn of the industrial revolution (OK, think home Solar power), to one where the vast majority of users pull resource off of a utility, where the generation happens in a place with very high economies-of-scale.

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