At a recent conference, I saw Chris Anderson make a presentation in which he quoted the famous 1954 prediction by Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, that “our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.” Having paid my own electric bill last night, I think I can say with confidence that Strauss was slightly off in his forecast.
Nevertheless, it’s worth keeping his prediction in mind when thinking about computing and, in particular, data storage, as it turns, like power before it, into a utility. Dave Gurnell, a software engineer at Untyped, recently began using Amazon’s S3 storage service to back up his hard drive on his desktop computer. He was surprised, a bit later, to receive an email from Amazon warning him that it “was unable to charge your account based on the payment information you provided.” That was odd, he thought, since the credit card he had provided was valid.
He logged onto his account and discovered “that my balance was a whopping $0.01. A single cent!”
It turned out that his credit card company refused to process such a minuscule charge, so Amazon waived it. Writes Gurnell: “A month’s backups, totally free of charge – that’s value for money. I shall be recommending S3 to all my friends.”
So utility data storage, at least at a personal level, may not yet be too cheap to measure. But it is becoming too cheap to bill.