Utility computing, the IT vendor pitch of choice for selling more hardware and services this year, is often misperceived—or actually misrepresented—as either a technology or a business arrangement. Its true that the utility model is enabled by new technologies and that it promotes the development of innovative service provider relationships. However, utility computing itself, whether marketed as On Demand by IBM or as N1 by Sun Microsystems Inc. or by any other name, is fundamentally a management approach that can and should change the enterprise view of what an IT investment is buying.
Last week, in Part 1 of this special report, eWEEK Labs examined grid computing as a key enabling technology for the utility computing model of IT use. The "utility" label is often misused as a synonym for grid computing, but the concepts share a common goal of making IT power as incrementally available as watts of electricity from the power grid.
Indeed, the commodity components, pervasive connections and standards-based system software that combine to make grids a cost-effective option also make it feasible to parcel out the power of those grids in utility fashion.
The heterogeneity and dynamic nature of grids are challenges, but meeting them lays a firm foundation for the 24-by-7 quality of service that utility computing requires. "The goal of the grid is to assume heterogeneity instead of trying to accommodate it," said Frank Martinez, chief technology officer of service fabric provider Blue Titan Software Inc., in San Francisco. "In a homogeneous cluster environment, its more difficult to provide availability assurance."
At the same time, however, its just as much in the nature of utility computing to carve up a single, high-capacity superserver—with proven fault tolerance, diagnosis and other high-availability features—into multiple virtual machines using technologies such as those from the VMware subsidiary of EMC Corp.
Ideally, a business unit should have no need to know which approach is being used to meet its requirements. Utility computing benefits from grids but is not limited to doing what grids do well.
Moreover, utility computings benefits are not even confined to the compute-intensive aspects of the enterprise IT portfolio. The utility approach is already having an impact on storage, output and every other facet of what enterprises do with information.