Tuesday 10 May 2005

Nicholas Carr on Utility Computing and RSS

For those of you who haven't heard of Nicholas Carr, he's the guy who created a few waves in the information technology industry last year with a Harvard Business Review article and book that asked the provactive question, does IT matter?

has a go at refreshing this debate with a new article in MIT Sloan Management Review, titled The End of Corporate Computing. He draws a comparison with the history of commoditisation in electricity generation with what he suggests will be an eventual move to utility computing. Underlying this idea appears to be a focus on the thin-client computing trend, built on top of “highcapacity, fiber-optic communication networks”, along with software tools and data that are univerally compatible with each other using virtualisation and Web-services. This will mean organisations can simply plug in and access as much, or as little, computing capacity and applications as they need.

Unfortunately, while I think Carr has done a good job of explaining the drivers for and benefits of utility computing, I don't really see any ground breaking observations here. He does make a good point about the management mindset being a barrier to utility computing, but I think he fails to consider how organisations will manage the risks associated with utility computing and the nature of change possible in the digital world. I was also interested to note that he makes no mention of wireless and mobile computing or peer-to-peer networks.

Now, along the way to finding this new article I discovered that Carr how has his own blog, called Rough Type. One of his recent posts outlines his thoughts on RSS as the next “killer protocol for push media”. But what makes this post worth mentioning is the cheeky comment from Wired that points to a May 2004 article in that magazine where they had already revisited their 1997 predictions about push technology. In the later article, Wired comments that:

But while the vision has become vivid once more, the seamless Web of the original push fantasy is almost as far away as ever. This is because the Web has grown far bigger, more diverse, more open, and messier. It cannot be unified by a single easy-to-learn, concretely useful specification like RSS... But one of the things we have learned since push is that at the level of real applications, we will continue to live in a world of translations, patches, interruptions, incomplete instructions, neat tricks, false hopes, and a receding universality that's always almost just as far away. Paradoxically, this is a sign that the progress is real.

An interesting thought considering Carr's ideas on utility computing.

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