As much as it is a mistake to assume that negativity is a sign of intelligence, it is also a mistake to succumb to blind optimism. And so we are raising a glass to the critics, cranks, and curmudgeons who alert us to the stumbling blocks and help us perfect the vision.
Following are five broad categories of potholes on the road to on-demand nirvana.
1. There's no there there
In many, if not most, ways, utility computing is still vision, still vapor, an idea that is not quite reality. That's the nature of emerging technologies, and it is especially true of utility computing, which is exceptionally wide reaching and is itself comprised of emerging technologies, including blade servers, autonomic computing, virtualization, Web services, and grid computing.
2. Money... it's a drag
No two ways about it, organizations will have to do their math when considering when and whether to jump into utility computing. In a report titled Distributed Computing Economics, Jim Gray of Microsoft Research finds that "'On Demand' computing is only economical for very CPU-intensive (100,000 instructions per byte or a CPU-day per gigabyte of network traffic) applications." Futhermore, even if an organization can clearly benefit from utility computing, existing architectural barriers may be insurmountable -- at least in the near term.
3. Security, security, security
Any IT professional worth her salt is right to get a little fidgety around the idea of sharing computing resources with other organizations. Security is a critical element of any organization's IT strategy, and it is not a topic on which the visioneers wax poetic. Bottom line: make security a priority when selecting a vendor.
4. It's just outsourcing - supersized. So why should we trust it?
In a recent interview with BusinessWeek, Richard Newton, dean of the College of Engineering at U.C. Berkeley, identified trust as one of the greatest hurdles for utility computing to overcome, saying "Trust is earned. Once you blow it, it takes a huge effort to regain it." Perhaps no company knows that better than IBM, who made a big splash in the press when one of its data centers "lost" a hard drive containing financial details for an estimated 180,000 clients of a Canadian life insurance company. Confidence inspiring, eh?
5. I've seen the future, and it's every bit as bad as I imagined.
Nick Carr's article (soon to be developed into a book) in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review titled "IT Doesn't Matter" released a hailstorm of controversy. Carr's central argument is that the commodification of IT is making it strategically irrelevant. Isn't that exactly what utility computing promises? Isn't that exactly what we asked for? Are we so enamoured of our current utility services that we're driving computing that way too? Are we nuts?! The short answer: yes.
Do the curmudgeons have it right? Probably. They're a smart bunch. But here's the thing... The future hasn't happened yet. There's still time to get it right.