While Web services and open source software are poised to transform the software level of the IT stack, companies such as IBM and Hewlett Packard are hoping to also transform the hardware level through utility computing. They intend to sell computing cycles as a service. But all is not going as planned -- certainly not in historical terms.
"When the electricity industry was being built in the late 1800s, it took about two decades for centralized utilities to come into vogue," according to a recent survey of utility computing in BusinessWeek Magazine. "And by the 1920s, electricity was ubiquitous in the U.S. In comparison, the modern computer industry looks downright stunted. If you consider that it got its real start with the invention of the integrated-circuit board in 1958, it has taken nearly 40 years to reach a point where many people are even talking about computer utilities."
Meanwhile, Dell continues to believe that the humble box has some life in it yet. The company (which Carly Fiorina dismisses as "low cost, low-tech") is mounting an assault on the corporate data center and intends to take market share away from HP and Big Blue. I recently had drinks with an influential Dell marketer who made the joke that we'd all still have power generators in our houses if Michael Dell had been selling them 100 years ago.