Home Page > Publications > Cloud Computing - A Giant Step Backwards?

Cloud Computing is one of today's hottest topics in the IT community. It's touted as a revolution that will bring us unbridled scalability, reliability and cost efficiency. At the same time, it's been compared to core utilities, such as water provision or the electricity grid in that it is simply the next step in utility-based computing.

As Nicholas Carr states in The Big Switch, "A hundred years ago, companies stopped generating their own power with steam engines and dynamos and plugged into the newly built electric grid. The cheap power pumped out by electric utilities didn't just change how businesses operate. It set off a chain reaction of economic and social transformations that brought the modern world into existence. Today, a similar revolution is under way. Hooked up to the Internet's global computing grid, massive information-processing plants have begun pumping data and software code into our homes and businesses. This time, it's computing that's turning into a utility."

From the earliest days of civilization, people built communal wells, reservoirs and aqueducts to allow city-dwelling citizens to procure water on demand - often at no initial cost (sound familiar?). Such services eliminated the need for people to waste precious time or resources procuring water, and (theoretically) allowed them to engage in more economically productive pursuits. However, with convenience came dependence, and with dependence came both cost and risk. Mechanical failures, inadequate planning, rising prices with little control have on occasion brought disaster to many. Still, the general result was incredibly positive... if you look at the big picture.

The challenge is that companies today do not - cannot - look solely at the big picture. A short term outage or price hike could have powerful consequences. Still, the inherent benefits would almost certainly ensure that the cloud will prevail... especially as our dependency grows.

The real question is what happens if we ever even approach such a level of dependency. Will the state come in to regulate? Would skyrocketing costs, inefficient service and general discontent ensue? Would we then see a drive towards deregulation, and an environment so fragmented that the ideal of the cloud becomes a distant memory? Today, if worse came to worse, you could buy a few servers, pick up a few technologists, and go back to the 90's where even the smallest shops managed their own IT infrastructure. The question is whether that would even be a possibility 50 or even 20 years from now.  

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