The Grid Is Back

Guess who says our IT infrastructure is obsolete.

by / February 5, 2008

The February issue of Public CIO has a review of Nicholas Carr's new book, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (W.W. Norton, 2008). You'll have to wait for the print and online edition to find out what our columnist Paul Taylor thinks, but I can safely tell you, without giving anything away, Carr is emphatic that the future of computing lies with the utility model, sometimes referred to as grid computing or computing in the cloud. This model places IT into the same concept as the electric utility, rendering obsolete the corporate or, in our case, government IT infrastructure.

As with so many computing trends, expect to see this one play out in the private-sector market first. In a recent interview in CIO Insight magazine, Carr stated that simple economics will drive more companies to utility computing, where IT infrastructure, data centers and even applications are no longer housed inside an organization, but are hosted and run by third-party data center networks.

Beyond the cost factor as a reason to migrate, Carr believes other benefits of the utility model include shared or communal assets. Currently sharing information across an organization or between information producer and customer is fragmented and difficult. But the utility model is based on shared systems, which are much more flexible, more personalized and easier to use.

And it's happening faster than you may realize, according to Carr. A week doesn't go by without my e-mail box filling with press releases and articles announcing another grid or utility model initiative. Indeed, some major IT firms have announced a variety of utility/grid/cloud initiatives, ranging from software-as-a-service applications for customer relationship management and content management to backup services, even security.

Small and mid-sized firms are quickly embracing the utility model. For larger firms, the transition to utility computing will take longer, perhaps five or 10 years. My hunch is that's about the time frame for government computing. Some more-progressive small governments will move quickly to the model, but large municipalities, states and the federal government will lag behind.

Carr also believes utility computing will "provide greater data security than we have in today's fragmented model." But right now, most organizations are too nervous about where their data is stored to make the leap of faith and embrace utility computing fully.

In both the magazine interview and the book, Carr takes a dim view of the future of CIOs and IT departments, saying their future is rather limited. I won't go into the full text of what he says, nor do I support all his views, but his opinions remain a force in the IT community.