The Troposphere

Dec 2 2009   9:36PM GMT

When the utility model falls apart

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

Interop was great. It highlighted for me how far and how fast cloud has come along. It was all too brief; all the cloud sessions were slammed and debate ran high.

Panelists like AT&T’s VP for Business Development and Strategy Joe Weinman, for instance, did a splendid job laying out a cost model for computing that follows the utility model, building on the old saw that “nobody has a generator in their backyard anymore”, and arguing that computing services are subject to the same rules as the utility market.

They aren’t, for one reason paramount above all others. Data is unique. It’s not a commodity. One datum of information does not equal another. You don’t care if your neighbor washes his dishes with water drop 1 or water drop 2– but you’re sure going to care if he’s using your data set instead of his to make money, however.

For instance, I asked Joe Weinman what happens to his rosy cost model if net neutrality falls apart and carriers can engage in prejudicial pricing for network users. Naturally, he didn’t answer that, but it’s a primary example of the fundamental problems with treating cloud as a utility.

Of course, what happens, is AT&T makes more money and users that went headlong into public clouds are going to get royally screwed. No large enterprise is a) unaware of this b) going to do it.

Net neutrality is hardly the last political consideration- it’s just the one I brought up because there was a telco in the room. It’s easy to conceive of legislation that would irrevocably compromise data stored in outside repositories- indeed, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, in the US, it already is.

Political wrangling that raises your electric bill a few cents an hour is one thing. Losing exclusivity to your company data by fiat is quite another. It’ll be a cold day in hell before any large (or even medium) size enterprise is going to commit to using public compute as a utility with vulnerabilities like that. Sure, they’ll put workloads in Amazon, and take them out again; they’ll shift meaningless data into these resources, but they’ll never, ever be thinking of it the same way they think about the electric company.

It’s still a useful metaphor, in a rudimentary fashion; It gets the concept of ‘on-tap’ across, and it’s balm to the ears of people who didn’t really understand their IT operations anyway. But futurologists and vendors, especially vendors who want to monetize cloud on top of carrier services, need to understand that the message has come home; we know what cloud is, and we know what the real risks are. Now, show us your answers– In the mean time, we’ll keep our ‘generators’ and our data, to ourselves.

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