Buying in Bulk

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2004-02-16 Print this article Print

Buying in Bulk

ITs utility vehicles

Utility model not identical with grids

  • Grid virtualization combines many resources into one

  • Other utility technologies carve large servers into many virtual machines Utility computing doesnt have to mean outsourcing

  • IT department evolves to become provider of service

  • Reduces waste of many units that are each investing for individual peak loads Manageability strengths differentiate utility offerings

  • Utility technologies are standards-based commodities

  • Evaluate products for superior workflow and automation
At a minimum, however, any pitch for a utility computing initiative should also offer economies of scale and a lowering of peak-to-average ratios. When IT is measured by the cycle, not by the box of CPUs or disks, any given enterprise or business unit should see its IT costs reflect something closer to bulk prices and average needs than to boutique prices for meeting peak demands.

Whether IT assets are being shared merely with other business units or among a larger population of a service providers clients, the utility model should be able to "allocate resources without a screwdriver," to borrow the words of Inkras Roberts.

That flexibility implies the ability to "follow the sun," in the words of Edouard Bugnion, chief architect at EMC subsidiary VMware, in Palo Alto, Calif. That is, to let IT capacity flow from one business function to another or from one geographic region to another during the course of the day or in other recurring cycles.

"If you stick to physical management of resources," said Bugnion, "youre limiting yourself in how quickly you can deploy new services or respond to changing business needs."

Rather than looking at utility computing merely for cost reduction, Bugnion suggests that there are affirmative benefits in letting compute power flow without friction from one use to another. In conversations with enterprise users, for example, eWEEK Labs has found great interest in using utility approaches to give overnight access to realistic test environments for application development teams, instead of using todays more common approach of having dedicated testbed systems that fail to reflect the challenge of full-scale operations.

That flow of capacity to where its needed, instead of hardware sitting idle while useful tasks go begging, is what utility computing is all about.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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