Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Where does all the computer power go: cloud computing

The Economist of October 23, 2008 has a survey focused on cloud computing and the implications of the rise in cloud computing for corporations. I excerpt from some of the articles:

"CORPORATE IT: Where the cloud meets the ground"
This is Microsoft’s new data centre in Northlake, a suburb of Chicago, one of the world’s most modern, biggest and most expensive, covering 500,000 square feet (46,000 square metres) and costing $500m. One day it will hold 400,000 servers.........

There are an estimated 7,000 such data centres in America alone, most of them one-off designs that have grown over the years, reflecting the history of both technology and the particular use to which it is being put. It is no surprise that they are egregiously inefficient. On average only 6% of server capacity is used, according to a study by McKinsey, a consultancy, and the Uptime Institute, a think-tank. Nearly 30% are no longer in use at all, but no one has bothered to remove them. Often nobody knows which application is running on which server. A widely used method to find out is: “Let’s pull the plug and see who calls.”
"CORPORATE IT: On the periphery"
by the end of this year Amazon will have sold nearly 380,000 Kindles, says Mark Mahaney, an analyst with Citigroup, a bank. “Turns out the Kindle is becoming the iPod of the book world,” he recently wrote in a note to clients, in a reference to Apple’s iconic music player.......

it is safe to say that, once the next generation of wireless networks is up and running, hundreds of millions of devices will come, like the Kindle, with built-in radio connectivity (see chart 5). Digital cameras will automatically upload pictures. Smart meters will send readings of how much electricity a house consumes. All kinds of sensors will be able to send messages, even things like dipsticks when tanks of liquid are low.

The relationship of these devices to cloud computing may not be obvious. But if huge data centres and applications make up the cloud itself, then all the hardware and software through which it connects and communicates with the real world are its periphery. In IT speak, this is known as the “front end” or “client side”.

As the Kindle and other examples show, this layer does not have much to do with the user interface or client device of old. It will do a lot of computing itself. It will come in all shapes and sizes, depending on what the user wants to do. And it will not just distribute information, as the web does, but collect it as well........

Whatever the buzzword, the principle is much the same. Servers no longer dish up simple hypertext markup language (HTML), the web’s early lingua franca. Increasingly, web pages are bona fide pieces of software that are executed in the browser. Users of Web 2.0 sites who venture into menu items such as “view source” in their browsers can sometimes see thousands of lines of code.

In recent months the browser has become even more of a platform for other programs, akin to an operating system such as Windows. The main driver of this trend is Google, with its huge strength in distribution that can only gain from more and more software being offered as a service. In May 2007 the Silicon Valley firm launched Gears, a program that allows web applications to be used offline, and in September this year it released a new browser called Chrome. Its most important feature is that it can execute several sophisticated web applications at once.

"CORPORATE IT: Computers without borders"
IT industry leaders note that officials from many countries have begun to take an interest in the cloud. Some just want data centres to be built in their country to create jobs; others are concerned about issues of law enforcement and jurisdiction. The danger, they say, is that cloud providers might be obliged to build more data centres than are needed and have to comply with many different regulatory regimes. Some of them have been floating the idea of “free-trade zones” for data centres where common rules would apply.
Check out the links provided with the authors acknowledgments and sources.

Comment: While the global recession may slow the investment needed to make the changes suggested by The Economist, I suspect that a watershed change is coming. Note that more control of cyberspace will be given to the countries that can afford the data centers and the development of the software that the data centers make available.

Developing countries should benefit, and indeed may even have opportunities to to technological leapfrogging, using cloud computing to avoid the need to develop the human resources to maintain intra-corporate information systems.

The cyberspace cloud with autonomous data sensors and input devices, huge and cheap computing capacity, and a universal user population untied from their PCs will result in far more changes that those described above. I am sure that developing nations are not ready for those changes. JAD

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