We’re entering the third age of IT. The first age was the Mainframe Age. It had the advantage of being highly efficient, with computing assets operating at 90 percent or more of their capacity. But it had the disadvantage of being impersonal. Individuals couldn’t apply computing to their personal tasks when they had to go through a batch-processing regime. The second age – the age we’re still largely in – was the Client-Server Age. It had the advantage of making computing personal. We all got our own computers, along with easy access to the information and applications stored in our company’s data center. But it had the disadvantage of being incredibly inefficient (and inflexible). With thousands and thousands of subscale data centers scattered across the earth, capacity utilization plummeted – often to 25% or less.
The third age, now dawning, is the Utility Age. It offers the best of both worlds – personalization and efficiency. Today’s scattered IT infrastructure will be consolidated into highly efficient, utility-class data plants, while individuals will gain new flexibility to meld systems to their desires through simple configuration tools. For end users, IT will disappear. What they’ll get is the functionality they want. The same thing happened with mechanical power a century ago. Many thousands of scattered, subscale generators were consolidated into massive and massively efficient power plants, and the users got a flood of new applications.
Two good new articles examine some of the possible implications of IT’s third age: At Baseline, David Carr pulls together lots of facts from lots of places to give one of the better descriptions of Google’s utility infrastructure and the clever ways the company deploys applications on it. And, at O’Reilly Radar, Tim O’Reilly interviews Microsoft’s Debra Chrapaty, Vice President of Operations for Windows Live, about the deployment of applications on Microsoft’s emerging utility infrastructure – and uses her comments as a springboard for some more general musings about the future.
We’re in the early stage of the creation of the IT utility, so it’s interesting to see how a couple of the giants are approaching the task.