Berkeley Schedule Spring 2008
links for 2008-01-24

Tom Slee Tells Us to Read Nicholas Carr's "The Big Switch"

Tom writes:

Whimsley: The Big Switch: The Big Switch, by Nicholas Carr, is published by W.W.Norton, January 2008.... Unlike most technology commentators Nicholas Carr knows that if you want to predict what's happening next, you've got to follow the money. And he does so very well, which makes this book (and his weblog) recommended reading for anyone interested in where  technology is taking us.

Google is everywhere in The Big Switch and the reason is simple: cost.

No corporate computing system, not even the ones operated by very large businesses, can match the efficiency, speed and flexibility of Google's system. One analyst [Martin Reynolds of the Gartner Group: see here ] estimates that Google can carry out a computing task for one tenth of what it would cost a typical company.

That means, if you are a company and you have a computing task to be done that Google already does, you can save a bunch of money and you can now start outsource your CPU cycles just as you previously outsourced other tasks. And that means that the computing landscape will get shaken up. Not in a matter of months, but over the next decade or so. It's amazing how quickly we get used to a landscape and many of us are now so accustomed to PC's and the basic layout of corporate computing systems that they seem almost natural. But Carr warns us that this is going to change and, as if to confirm his claims, last week Sun Microsystems, supplier of many of the computers that make up corporate data centres, announced that by 2015 it won't have a single data centre. Information Technology is not sacrosanct.

Google's cost advantage comes partly from a built-in inefficiency of corporate computing: capacity underutilization. Many applications demand their own servers, and those servers must be able to handle the peak load that the application will experience even if that peak load happens only rarely. As a result most corporate computers, most of the time, do nothing except consume electricity and produce heat. This inefficiency was unavoidable until recently, but now high-speed Internet availability makes it possible for companies that have the resources (Google and a few others) to build warehouses full of servers that look like power stations (see Google's The Dalles centre in Oregon, below, with two football-stadium-sized buildings full of perhaps 60,000 servers). And then they can supply CPU cycles over the Internet just like electrical utilities supply electricity. The demand on Google's CPU cycles is smoothed out, being balanced among many consumers in different timezones with different needs, and that only helps their efficiency. It's what Carr calls utility computing...