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Nick Carr: The ways cloud computing will disrupt IT

Tom Sullivan | March 26, 2009
Carr discusses the inevitable transition to utility computing and why IT would be wise to brace itself

I read your recent blog post in which you state, in short, that a handful of big companies -- Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and Amazon -- are buying about 20 per cent of the servers sold today, and that fact along with more powerful edge devices, is leading to a new architecture that makes applications unheard of before now possible. What are some examples?

I wish I knew. I don't mean that in a glib way. We don't know yet. The New York Times' use of is a small but telling example of what happens when you radically democratize computing so that anyone has access at any moment to supercomputer-type capacity and all the data storage they need. So it's about what can you do with that? I think you can do a whole lot, and smart people will do a lot. But almost by definition we don't know what it is yet because it hasn't been done. But if you think of constraints on IT experimentation within companies, a lot of them have to do with the fact that traditionally there's been a lot of upfront expenses required to build the capacity to do experiments, to write applications that may or may not pay off, and so that cost squelches innovation. And suddenly those costs are going away, so there can be a lot more experimentation going on than we've seen in the past. That's just looking within IT departments' purview.

Beyond that, when you look at Amazon's Kindle the most interesting thing about it isn't that's it's another e-book reader, but that it has a perpetual Internet connection essentially built into the product, by which I mean there's no extra cost, it's just a feature of the product. What happens when more and more products have Internet services essentially bundled into them and you don't even have to think about it? It seems inevitable that's coming, and companies are going to have to think about how that changes the nature of products and services when they're always connected to this incredibly powerful cloud.

Now, this idea that such a small number of companies are buying such a large chunk of servers -- what are the implications?

Well, first of all this comes from a guy at Microsoft [Rick Rashid, senior vice president who oversees Microsoft Research]. So I'm assuming he has good information and that's an accurate number. But if that is, 20 percent is a huge chunk of the server market, and to have that consolidated into the hands of a few purchasers in what's only the last few years, really shows a fundamental shift in the nature of that industry that more and more of the product is going to be consumed by fewer and fewer companies. That radically changes the server industry.


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