% fortune -ae paul murphy

A thought about Utility Computing

Nicholas Carr is famous for an essay he wrote in which his fundamental point was that since everyone is using the same interchangeable people to run the same Microsoft software on the same x86 gear, everybody's IT infrastructure is interchangeable and therefore strategically irrelevant in terms of corporate competition.

Of course he didn't state this thesis quite so baldly - and in fact the essay itself doesn't make it clear that he even knew that he saw the PC as defining the standard because he limited his view to the PC - but that's all it amounted to until the Wintel community picked it up as a kind of all purpose validation for their habit of taking money for enforcing the tyranny of the majority.

Recently he's suffered a new revelation - and it's more of the same. This time the buzz word is "utility computing" instead of "commoditization", and the nominal prediction is that everyone's going back to 70s style time sharing; but what he's really talking about is the interchangeability of interchangeable processing services - and that's exactly what the first essay was about too.

It's true that data processing's continuing take-over of the Microsoft PC world is driving users to look for third party time sharing services in exactly the same way they did in the seventies when data processing took over, and then killed, the mini-computer revolution. Then, as now, time-sharing was an expedience - a poor solution user managers adopted to get around data processing controls and will therefore have about the same impact now as it did then.

The right answer to the locked down PC, and the one that will ultimately prevail, isn't using that PC as a client to the same locked down server your competitor uses, it's to change the organizational structure from centralized processing with centralized control to centralized processing with decentralized control - i.e. the competitive value in IT doesn't have much to do with what or where the hardware or software is, but everything to do with whose agendas that hardware and software serves.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.