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Expanding the 4th Utility to Include Cloud Computing

Relieving the User from the Burden of Big Processing Power

A lot has been said the past couple months about broadband as the fourth utility. The same status as roads, water, and electricity. As an American, the next generation will have broadband network access as an entitlement. But is it enough?

Carr, in “the Big Switch” discusses cloud computing being analogous to the power grid. The only difference is for cloud computing to be really useful, it has to be connected. Connected to networks, homes, businesses, SaaS, and people. So the next logical extension for a fourth utility, beyond simply referring to broadband network access as a basic right for Americans (and others around the world – it just happens as an American for purposes of this article I’ll refer to my own country’s situation), should include additional resources beyond simply delivering bits.

The “New” 4th Utility

So the next logical step is to marry cloud computing resources, including processing capacity, storage, and software as a service, to the broadband infrastructure. SaaS doesn’t mean you are owned by Google, it simply means you have access to those applications and resources needed to fulfill your personal or community objectives, such as having access to centralized e-Learning resources to the classroom, or home, or your favorite coffee shop. The network should simply be there, as should the applications needed to run your life in a wired world.

The data center and network industry will need to develop a joint vision that allows this environment to develop. Data centers house compute utility, networks deliver the bits to and from the compute utility and users. The data center should also be the interconnection point between networks, which at some point in the future, if following the idea of contributing to the 4th utility, will finally focus their construction and investments in delivering big pipes to users and applications.

Relieving the User from the Burden of Big Processing Power

As we continue to look at new home and laptop computers with quad-core processors, more than 8 gigs of memory, and terabyte hard drives, it is hard to believe we actually need that much compute power resting on our knees to accomplish the day-to-day activities we perform online. Do we need a quad core computer to check Gmail or our presentation on Microsoft Live Office?

In reality, very few users have applications that require the amounts of processing and storage we find in our personal computers. Yes, there are some applications such as gaming and very high end rendering which burn processing calories, but for most of the world all we really need is a keyboard and screen. This is what the 4th utility may bring us in the future. All we’ll really need is an interface device connecting to the network, and the processing “magic” will take place in a cloud computing center with processing done on a SaaS application.

The interface device is a desktop terminal, intelligent phone (such as an Android, iPhone, or other wired PDA device), laptop, or anything else that can display and input data.

We won’t really care where the actual storage or processing of our application occurs, as long as the application’s latency is near zero.

The “Network is the Computer” Edges Closer to Reality

Since John Gage coined those famous words while working at Sun Microsystems, we’ve been edging closer to that reality. Through the early days of GRID computing, software as a service, and virtualization – added to the rapid development of the Internet over the past 20 years, technology has finally moved compute resource into the network.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that for 95% of computer users, a server-based application meets nearly all our daily office automation, social media, and entertainment needs. Twitter is not a computer-based application, it is a network-enabled server-based application. Ditto for Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIN, and most other services.

Now the “Network is the Computer” has finally matured into a utility, and at least in the United States, will soon be an entitlement for every resident. It is also another step in the globalization of our communities, as within time no person, country, or point on the earth will be beyond our terminal or input device.

That is good

More Stories By John Savageau

John Savageau is a life long telecom and Internet geek, with a deep interest in the environment and all things green. Whether drilling into the technology of human communications, cloud computing, or describing a blue whale off Catalina Island, Savageau will try to present complex ideas in terms that are easily appreciated and understood.

Savageau is currently focusing efforts on data center consolidation strategies, enterprise architectures, and cloud computing migration planning in developing countries, including Azerbaijan, The Philippines, Palestine, Indonesia, Moldova, Egypt, and Vietnam.

John Savageau is President of Pacific-Tier Communications dividing time between Honolulu and Burbank, California.

A former career US Air Force officer, Savageau graduated with a Master of Science degree in Operations Management from the University of Arkansas and also received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Asian Studies and Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland.

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