IT utility unlike water, electricity

Utility computing is a term that you’re probably hearing a lot about these days, and one of the few things that is absolutely certain about the model is that you will be hearing a lot more about it in the future. After that, almost everything about the utility idea is TBD: To Be Determined.

A popular, somewhat Utopian vision of utility computing bandied about by its proponents derives from its very moniker. It is a picture of extreme IT reliability and uptime, where the latest and greatest IT products and services are available to customers merely at the flick of a switch or turn of the tap. Like electricity and water, IT is simply there when one wants it, in practically whatever quantity.

A different, more realistic vision sees IT services and capabilities outsourced in pieces to a service provider, or IT utility, if you will. In this model, a company offloads only certain parts of its overall IT enterprise to a third party, which owns, operates and maintains the hardware and software. All the customer has to do is fork over a check every month and watch the outsourced applications — conceivably — run like a fresh-off-the-line Cadillac engine.

We are seeing numerous instances of the latter scenario working in the present IT arena. Like all inchoate concepts, it has had its successes and failures. However, it seems safe to say that the model is here to stay and will only grow more reliable as those firms offering such services work out the kinks.

The former scenario, while a nice smile-and-nod daydream for stressed-out IT managers and CIOs, is certainly not guaranteed to become a reality. It’s nice to think of IT coming out of a tap on a 24/7, five-nines uptime basis, but there are some glaring differences between IT and traditional utilities. Once available ubiquitously, products such as electricity did not change. It still is what it was a century ago. IT, on the other hand, is continually in flux.

There are also so many elements of an entire IT infrastructure. Keeping them all in one package and delivering them will be much more of a challenge than simply pumping electricity over a grid — as impressive as that feat was and still is.

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