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Bill St. Arnaud is a R&E Network and Green IT consultant who works with clients on a variety of subjects such as the next generation research and education and Internet networks. He also works with clients to develop practical solutions to reduce GHG emissions such as free broadband and dynamiccharging of eVehicles (See . View my complete profile

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The IT department is dead - Nicholas Carr

[Another provocative book by Nicholas Carr. But in general I agree with him, except I think his vision is too limited to utility computing. Web 2.0, SOA, IaaS (Infrastructure as a web service) will be additional services that will be offered by clouds operated by Google, Amazon and so forth. And as I have often stated in this blog, I believe elimination or reduction of CO2 emissions may also be the critical enabler, as opposed to the putative business case benefits of virtualization and web services. The classic example is cyber-infrastructure applications where take up by university researchers has been disappointing (and is one of the themes at the upcoming MardiGras conference on distributed applications).

Carr uses analogy of how companies moved from owning and operating their own generating equipment to purchasing power off the grid. This was only possible once a robust and widescale transmission grid was deployed by utilities. However, this is the component that is missing in Carr's vision with respect to utility computing and virtualization - we do not yet have the communications networks especially in the last mile, to realize this vision.

And finally while the traditional IT techie may disappear I can see a new class of skills being required of "orchestration engineers" to help users and researchers build solutions, APNs and workflows from the variety of virtual services available from companies like Google, Amazon, IBM etc. Some excerpts from Network world article
-- BSA]

The IT department is dead, and it is a shift to utility computing that will kill this corporate career path. So predicts Nicholas Carr in his new book, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google. Other stories on this topic

Carr is best known for a provocative Harvard Business Review article entitled "Does IT Matter?" Published in 2003, the article asserted that IT investments didn't provide companies with strategic advantages because when one company adopted a new technology, its competitors did the same.

With his new book, Carr is likely to engender even more wrath among CIOs and other IT pros.

"In the long run, the IT department is unlikely to survive, at least not in its familiar form," Carr writes. "It will have little left to do once the bulk of business computing shifts out of private data centers and into the cloud. Business units and even individual employees will be able to control the processing of information directly, without the need for legions of technical people."

Carr's rationale is that utility computing companies will replace corporate IT departments much as electric utilities replaced company-run power plants in the early 1900s.

Carr explains that factory owners originally operated their own power plants. But as electric utilities became more reliable and offered better economies of scale, companies stopped running their own electric generators and instead outsourced that critical function to electric utilities.

Carr predicts that the same shift will happen with utility computing

Carr cites several drivers for the move to utility computing. One is that computers, storage systems, networking gear and most widely used applications have become commodities.

He says even IT professionals are indistinguishable from one company to the next. "Most perform routine maintenance chores — exactly the same tasks that their counterparts in other companies carry out," he says.

Carr points out that most data centers have excess capacity, with utilization ranging from 25% to 50%. Another driver to utility computing is the huge amount of electricity consumed by data centers, which can use 100 times more energy than other commercial office buildings.

"The replication of tens of thousands of independent data centers, all using similar hardware, running similar software, and employing similar kinds of workers, has imposed severe economic penalties on the economy," he writes. "It has led to the overbuilding of IT assets in every sector of the economy, dampening the productivity gains that can spring from computer automation."

Carr embraces Google as the leader in utility computing. He says Google runs the largest and most sophisticated data centers on the planet, and is using them to provide services such as Google Apps that compete directly with traditional client/server software from vendors such as Microsoft.

"If companies can rely on central stations like Google's to fulfill all or most of their computing requirements, they'll be able to slash the money they spend on their own hardware and software — and all the dollars saved are ones that would have gone into the coffers of Microsoft and the other tech giants," Carr says.