In the ultimate promotion of his book, Nicholas Carr discussed the past, present and future of computing during a keynote at the Search Engine Strategies 2008 show in New York this morning.
I've read synopses of "The Big Switch: Rewiring The World, from Edison to Google" in several of my peers writings, and even discussed it with Google's OpenSocial guru David Glazer a couple weeks ago. I knew Carr draws a series of parallels between the evolution of the electrical grid and the computer grid.
But now I'm not sure I need to read the book. Carr covered so much ground in the 60 minutes, touching on everything from the first water wheel used to generate electricity, to mainframes, to cloud computing and Google's datacenters and the future of distributed applications and search engines strategies.
If anybody who attended the keynote and read the book thinks I'm missing something let me know.
Anyway, here are some key takeaways.
- Both the electrical and computing grids are what Carr calls "general purpose" technologies designed to scale on a massive level. Moreover, people will employ software from the cloud, where applications are enabled by the Internet and hosted on big, huge, massive datacenters.
This is already happening. Anyone totally on Google Apps yet? Maybe not without total offline capabilities and project management, but you will be, Carr believes.
- Google hosts one of these datacenters in The Dalles, Oregon. Carr showed a picture of one of the buildings, a cooling facility, which sucks in the cold river water to cool servers in another building the length of a football field that houses tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of servers.
Think the Matrix with machines instead of humans and no AI.
In a classic moment of voicing the collective high-tech media's frustration with the usually open Google, Carr noted that no one knows how many servers are in Google's datacenters. He chided Google by joking that the company is probably doing "animal sacrifices" in there.
The resulting image in my brain was enough to make me ashamed to read the letters PETA in a sentence. Suffice it to say, I laughed aloud, imagining a chaotic ceremony involving several species of woodland rodents, super hot servers and the smell of burning fur.
- Carr made another salient point about Google, underscoring CEO Eric Schmidt's prescience. Carr dug up this 1993 quote from Schmidt when he was the CTO of Sun Microsystems: "When the network becomes as fast as the processor, the computer hollows out and spreads across the network."
Ding! This is exactly what Google is doing. Carr also credited Microsoft with spending billions on cloud computing, as well as cloud forerunners such as Amazon, Salesforce.com and others.
- The influence of Facebook and the other social networks is greater than we think: Carr said that when we all move to the cloud computing model, we will engage our computers and smartphones through Facebook-like user interfaces. This is not a stretch to envision, but it's nice to hear Carr give voice to it.
I'll be rounding out the coverage in greater detail later this afternoon on eWEEK.