Bargain basement cloud, unemployment in IT discount site offers virtual server rather than the real thing.

So we're all used to seeing unbelievable bargains for servers or desktops or whatever on a whole range of discount IT sites.

ServerADay looks like one of the same. Except, this morning, instead of selling an actual P4/1.7GHz with 512MB of memory and twin 36GB drives and your choice of operating system, they were selling one with all those things and 2500 GB of bandwidth for $29.95 per month.

The price is what got my attention, but eventually the coffee kicked in and the bandwidth and "per month" after the cost popped out.

ServerADay, it turns out, is owned by a hosting company called OLM, which sometimes goes crazy on a killer deal and buys too many of a particular server. So they sell off the excess direct to consumer. (Although I think I've heard exactly the same story from rug stores with "crazy" owners; if the deals weren't so good I might suggest we do something about mental illness among retail executives.)

Since Olm is also a hosting company, sometimes they get stuck with down-rev servers they bought for customers who bailed. They could send you those in the mail, but it's possible someone else will come in looking for a hosted P4/1.7GHz with 512MB of memory, twin 36GB drives and their choice of operating system. Unlikely. If I hire a hosting company I want the servers to scream; that's why I'd keep them in your data center instead of mine. All the screaming.

Olm, being a solution hosting company, came up with a solution: host the server and rent it per month to suckers like me who would rather have someone else manage their hardware, and don't realize for 40 bucks extra they could get a better machine and just keep it, or for 60 bucks more they could get a lot better server. And keep it.

Or for 10, 30 and 40 bucks extra they could get a better server and the same hosting deal.

They're just individual servers, with your choice of operating system, hosted by a company with high-end data-center ambitions and a low-end direct-sales outlet for their expired equipment. Good recycling plan, actually.

So it's not actually cloud, unless the infrastructure you plan to abstract is really, really small.

But it is interesting to see straight hardware-hosting deals get so commoditized that the relationship, not the machine, is available on a deal-a-day site.

It shows how far downmarket even sophisticated IT operations have come. It used to be you used a hosting service so you didn't have to live with your own mainframe or the Cobol trolls who tended it with their evil magic and protected its unnatural life from any touch of the Sun or a client/server interface.

You can rent an obsolete server and have someone else take care of it; you can rent a chunk of Azure and run .NET apps on machines you don't own; you can lease micro-instances, storage blocks, I/O units and CPU cycles on EC2 and run a tiny data center on machines that, again, you don't own.

Capital expense? Save that budget for lunch with the CIO. Other than software -- which does what it wants, no matter what you or the programmers say about it -- and lusers, the biggest headache for IT is always getting the hardware to behave the way it's supposed to and not crash when you look at it twice. That's why network managers leave even the most fubared LAN plans in place because the rule is: if it's working, don't touch it.

In someone else's house you never have to touch it. You'll only be there to work with the software and mess with the lusers. Unless they cloudify that, too.

Then you won't have to bother fixing anything more complicated than TV and the remote control. Because if lusers can rent all the computing functions they need, why do they need you?

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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