The Big Switch: The network becomes the data center

Summary:Nick Carr, the Paul Revere of utility computing, blogged about HP reducing its data centers from over 80 to 6 and Sun's effort to shut down all its internal data centers by 2013. To achieve even greater efficiency will require a higher level of consolidation - across companies rather than within them - and that can only happen through a shift to shared, web-based infrastructure.

Nick Carr, the Paul Revere of utility computing, blogged about HP reducing its data centers from over 80 to 6 and Sun's effort to shut down all its internal data centers by 2013.

To achieve even greater efficiency will require a higher level of consolidation - across companies rather than within them - and that can only happen through a shift to shared, web-based infrastructure. The network, to spin the old Sun slogan, becomes the data center.

Brian Cinque of Sun explains the why Sun is taking the utility computing path:

  • Reduced IT costs thanks to a major reduction in data center space, power, and cooling requirements.
  • Reduced IT costs and decreased time to implement projects thanks to a reduction in operations complexity for the data center staff.
  • Compliance with Data Center audit finding.
  • A foundation for sourcing components.
  • A transition to an “evolutionary change” infrastructure management style.
  • Alignment with application, security, business systems, and agent architectures.

He then outlines how Sun will reach its goal in the next five years:

  • There is an ample amount of technologies available to SunIT that will allow us to consolidate systems, storage, applications, etc.
  • Server Virtualization – Xen/xVM, Solaris Zones/LDOMS
  • Storage Consolidation – Tiered storage, NAS, etc
  • Application Consolidation – For SunIT its called IBIS
  • WAN acceleration – Another interesting technology in which its roots have been around for a while.
  • SaaS - Another blog but SaaS plays a huge role. SaaS and mashups are an interesting discussion

These revelations by HP and Sun provide more evidence to support the thesis of Nick's new book, The Big Switch: Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google. In his previous book, Does IT Matter?, Nick argued that IT can't necessarily provide competitive advantage, given every company has access to it. The book created a storm of debate and ire, especially among vendors who didn't like the devaluation of IT.

The Big Switch and Does IT Matter? both treat IT is an essential and commoditized service, like electricity, that needs to be looked at in economic terms. The switch to software-as-a-service and utility (or grid) computing will have as profound an effect on society and businesses as cheap electricity did in the last century, Nick posits, although it will take a decade or two for corporations to wean themselves off of their existing systems.

He places the current movement toward utility computing, the Big Switch, in historical context:

An awestruck Henry Adams spent two weeks exploring the treasures of the Columbian Exposition, but he was most deeply affected by seeing a display of electric dynamos - two 800-kilowatt General Electric machines, the largest available at the time, and a dozen of the latest Westinghouse generators.

He recalled the experience in his biography The Education of Henry Adams. “One lingered long among the dynamos,” he wrote, “for they were new, and they gave to history a new phase.” Sensing that such machines “would result in infinite costless energy within a generation,” Adams knew that they would reshape the country and the world. He felt humbled by the dynamos, but their power also troubled him. What history’s “new phase” would bring, he realized, lay beyond our understanding and even our control: “Chicago asked in 1893 for the first time the question whether the American people knew where they were driving.

He concludes that we are heading into a new era:

In the years ahead, more and more of the information-processing tasks that we rely on, at home and at work, will be handled by big data centers located out on the Internet. The nature and economics of computing will change as dramatically as the nature and economics of mechanical power changed with the rise of electric utilities in the early years of the last century. The consequences for society - for the way we live, work, learn, communicate, entertain ourselves, and even think - promise to be equally profound. If the electric dynamo was the machine that fashioned twentieth century society - that made us who we are - the information dynamo is the machine that will fashion the new society of the twenty-first century.

Nick is talking about the computing infrastructure that will power the planet--always on connectivity affordable to everyone.

Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos describes the move to the Big Switch the “neutron star collapse of datacenters.” With utility computing, “brutal efficiency” for utilization, power, security, service levels and idea-to-deploy time can be delivered, he said.

In an interview last year, Papadopoulos has said that the earth’s compute resources will resolve into about “five hyperscale, pan-global broadband computing services giants,” and gave examples of Google, eBay, Amazon.com, Microsoft, Yahoo, Salesforce.com, and the “great computer” of China.

Source: Sun

More interesting and critical than the formulation of grid infrastructure is what emerges culturally, socially and economically from a super-high speed connected planet enabled by the Big Switch. Nick believes that wealth will be consolidated into the hands of a few companies, a concentration of power that could have negative implications. Given the changes we have seen in the first decade of the public Internet, the next few decades will bring accelerated disruption and innovation impacting all facets of our lives.

See also: Forbes interview with Nick Carr

 

 

Topics: Networking, Cloud, CXO, Data Centers, Emerging Tech, Hardware, Oracle, Storage

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.