Conversation Agent - Valeria Maltoni - The Big Switch

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The main problem with the utility model to me is users' data. In a fit of ignorance, and thinking it would be convenient, I bought a subscription to .Mac. Only to find out that I can do better without -- and that I really, really do not trust my private data to be online (esp. my network contacts info).

There is no evidence, as you point out, that companies are indeed leveraging the scale and resources they have so far and distributing content (and value) ad hoc. I used to be a huge F1 fan when I lived in Europe, closer to all of that. The new Ferrari is a beauty!

Perhaps the best argument is that sooner rather than later we will run out of space -- data storage. Along those same lines, I see the lack of complete fail over capabilities and non interruption of service in addition to back up a compelling argument. It may be more efficient to outsource that portion (disclaimer: I do live in the IT infrastructure and services space now).

The other big issue is security. Yes, these are all problems companies are facing, esp. those with high levels of consumer traffic and interaction. Social media did increase demand, expectations, and impatience bubbling to the surface those same demands of regular service providers -- like banks, Amazon, and the supply chain of our favorite online retail store. Reputation and trust play a large role here.

The comparison with electricity stops short when we consider content, what is transmitted through data pipes. After all, we would not want the "Hals" of computing to take over for us, would we?

Thank you for the opportunity to drill down a little. You would enjoy the book.

I'm not so sure he's right. The parallels break down, rather too rapidly.

Computing has developed in a direction that was quite unpredictable - common run-times, user interface being predominant, storage infrastructures and the like are not showing a trend to the utility business model.

Sure, services like ".Mac" are trying - desperately - to position themselves as utilities (without actually saying they are...), but the general trend is for independent computing power, playing (nicely) with utility-like systems (Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, et al).

Programming models are in a bit of a flux, right now. There's the Microsoft "server-centric" view, and the rest of the world struggling to adopt a not-quite-so-centric view; not "distributed", just not as server-oriented as Microsoft would like. (Has MS had its day? Don't hold your breath, but I'd go as far as suggesting: unless they change, maybe. Nothing like being certain and confident... :-) Okay: yes. And no. Equivocate? Moi? Sure.)

Looking at the trends, I think there's two forces acting on the marketplace: the corporate realization that storage is a strategic issue, and the consumer, who is beginning to realize that... Storage is important. The consumer is also driving another trend: communication.

Forward-thinking corporations like Fox's Speed network, are integrating real-time information and delivering real-time, individualized feeds to a purchasing public. Their coverage of last year's NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship was exemplary; it was also light years ahead of the Formula-1 coverage. (Although F1 still draw in about 300 million per race, worldwide, according to the stats I read not that long ago.)

But for the consumer, like myself, I want to store the race, and watch it when I have time. I don't want to be held to getting up before I've gone to bed! (Shades of a Monty Python sketch await those who dare go there...) That, requires storage and it requires at least a modicum of computing power!

The other issue I have is that utility-like computing power is simply not much in demand! Billing is an issue - easily solved, to be sure, but not so easily justified in the face of grid computing. When it costs just a few thousand dollars to build a supercomputer - what's the point of hiring that service out? (If it cost a few hundreds of thousands of dollars - maybe. This week, at least.)

If you need that sort of computing power now - you'll need it again (and again, and again, and so on), and it becomes cheaper and better to simply hire the right people to build it for you. Besides, it's a fantastic tax-write off!

There might be a market in utility-based routing, but only in the game market. Applications like Second Life and Microsoft's Xbox network require massive investment in a global infrastructure. If someone came along and said "I can route your stuff cheaper, and with more reliability" companies like Microsoft might pay attention. More likely, they'll simply buy you out of the market. But you have to deliver something they might not think they can: an enhancement to their reputation. Fail once - and you're out of business.

The analogy of electricity doesn't work; the technical problems Edison faced with his DC systems precluded its acceptance. Alternating current is simply easier to send down a wire! I remember a period where lots of economists seem to be discussing "natural monopolies"; these do exist (just ask the people in California!), but I don't think computing is one. The cost of computing is declining so rapidly that any utility is likely to outstripped by its customers!

Really good review, though! :-)

Carolyn Ann

I tried to keep it as descriptive as I could adding only additional resources when I felt the book drew the parallels well.

It's well written, I like Carr's style. The reason why I started the post with my take on change and the FT article is the very one you comment on -- it is hard to draw mental applications at this stage of technology maturity. With legacy systems being so widely adopted (in this case they'd be computers;-).

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