One of the subjects of the day in the tech world is the idea of “cloud computing” – the move towards using applications (webmail, blogs, wikis etc) and services (data storage, application hosting etc) that are located on the internet rather than on your own machine. For enterprises this means a system that can scale to meet requirements as they change, paying only for what you use, no large upfront investment and less in-house support costs.
This has become possible because access to the internet has become ubiquitous (at least in the developed world.) Physical location is no longer relevant, as long as you have a good speed connection.
In the years ahead, more and more of the information-processing tasks that we rely on, at home and at work, will be handled by big data centers located out on the internet – and the scope of what can be done in this way is constantly evolving. The nature and economics of computing in the next ten (twenty, thirty… fifty) years will change as dramatically as those of mechanical power did in the early years of the last century. This will impact the whole of society as the way of life is increasingly underpinned by technology.
This subject is dealt with in the recent book “The Big Switch” by Nicolas Carr. The book is really a book of two parts. The first half looks back to the time when electricity first became available, and the impact that it had, especially on industry. The real revolution came when companies stopped producing their own power and hooked into the power grid, where electricity was produced at large power stations. Electricity went from a competitive advantage for a business (those who had it over those who didn’t) to a utility service for all.
It is a good history lesson, told with vigour and an evident affection for the characters involved. The comparison is made clearly enough without the author repeating it so often that it bears down on you, making you lose the will to live.
In The Big Switch, the chapter “Goodbye, Mr Gates” looks at the threats posed to Microsoft’s dominance by Google and Amazon amongst others, coming to the conclusion:
The time of Gates and the other great software programmers who wrote the code of the PC age has come to an end. The future of computing belongs to the new utilitarians.
Part two of the book is called “Living in the Cloud” and, after a potted history of the internet, Carr starts looking at the more social implications of these momentous changes he has signaled – and he doesn’t like a lot of the possibilities. The erosion of the middle class, cultural impoverishment (especially the decline of traditional high quality journalism), the threats posed by the weakness of the internet’s infrastructure, the end of anonymity and privacy and Google’s ultimate aim to meld the search engine with the human brain to create a new artificial intelligence (that was news to me…).
The book is not earth-shattering, worth a read – but one for paperback.
He also looks at the state of the IT support industry in 10 years’ time in his article “IT in 2018: From Turing’s Machine to the Computing Cloud”:
No doubt, utility computing and Web apps pose big challenges to corporate IT departments and workers. They overturn long-held assumptions about IT, and they threaten some traditional jobs. But it’s important to see that for the companies that rely on computer systems, this shift is all to the good. After all, it means, at the very least, a proliferation of new choices for how IT needs can be fulfilled. And it means, in the long run, the freeing up of considerable amounts of capital that have long been sunk into privately owned and maintained computing machinery. And in the end it gives workers greater power and flexibility to gather, analyze, manipulate, and share information – which is, of course, why businesses use computers in the first place.
Initially it sounds daunting, but when you think about it, the phrases “it’s important to see that for the companies that rely on computer systems, this shift is all to the good” and “in the end it gives workers greater power and flexibility to gather, analyze, manipulate, and share information” point to precisely the things that are needed to support a successful business – one which is flexible and builds innovation into the system – according to the book The New Age of Innovation (reviewed here). The time frames are roughly right too. Carr is looking to 2018, the authors of the New Age… point to 2015.
“Cloud computing” is going to go a long way in the next decade – and, when it comes down to it, the majority of people won’t even notice, probably won’t even care.
Wikipedia: Cloud Computing
Rough Type: Alan Turing, cloud computing and IT’s future
Google: What Is Google App Engine?
Apple: MobileMe (and to show this “cloud” business is not easy, check out the related Apple’s Bad Day and the blog Apple set up when MobileMe got off to a very shaky start)
The Economist: Down on the server farm
Kevin Kelly: Follow the Moon
Computing: Concept of cloud still shrouded in mystery
Until last weekend I thought that Barack Obama would be the obvious choice for the American electorate come the US elections in November – young, vibrant, ready to change the country for the better. I have seen the speeches where he looks more presidential than anyone else out there, seen him engage in shuttle diplomacy around Europe, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan like a President-elect. In Britain, McCain hardly registers in the news – the old man surely doesn’t stand a chance. Or does he? (Hell, the guy would be coming up for 80 after a first term in office…)
Two articles appeared last weekend, one a excerpt from Michael Moore’s new book and the other an opinion piece, which show things are a lot closer than one might expect:
This is too close for comfort. Conditions in Iraq are steadily improving. The US economy may have hit bottom, and with oil and gas prices dropping and even the dollar inching back up, it’s possible voter bitterness towards Republicans will subside enough to let McCain sneak into office.
People around the world can only pray that Americans elect the right person. We dared to hope the last time, only to get the same two-bit fuck-wit idiot blighting our lives for another four years. Trouble is, when we try to help, we don’t always get the most pleasant responses:
I don’t give a rat’s ass if our election is going to have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don’t. If you want to have a meaningful election in your crappy little island full of shitty food and yellow teeth, then maybe you should try not to sell your sovereignty out to Brussels and Berlin, dipshit. Oh, yeah – and brush your goddamned teeth, you filthy animals.
Real Americans aren’t interested in your pansy-ass, tea-sipping opinions. If you want to save the world, begin with your own worthless corner of it.
Keep your noses out of our business. As I recall we kicked your asses out of our country back in 1776. We do not require input from losers and idiots on who we vote for in our own country. Fuck off and die asshole!!!!!
KEEP YOUR FUCKIN’ LIMEY HANDS OFF OUR ELECTION. HEY, SHITHEADS, REMEMBER THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR? REMEMBER THE WAR OF 1812? WE DIDN’T WANT YOU, OR YOUR POLITICS HERE, THAT’S WHY WE KICKED YOUR ASSES OUT.
Or the rather more sedate:
Mind your own flipping business.
Democrats, please don’t screw it up. Deliver the US President that a 21st century world needs.
• How to blow it – Michael Moore
• The Observer: If the Democrats want Obama to win, they have to get rough
• The Guardian (2004 US election): Dear Limey assholes
• The Sunday Times: High noon in duel for White House
• The Guardian: Obama bloodied by Team McCain in electoral cage fight
• The Sunday Times: Barack Obama opts for ‘bare-knuckle fighter’ Joe Biden
• The Guardian: A chancer’s choice
A more perfect union speech:
Obama in Berlin:
PS. If you sort your guys out, we’ll sort out ours – OK?
Garfield Minus Garfield is a site dedicated to removing Garfield from the Garfield comic strips in order to reveal the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle. It is a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb.
Genius. Pure genius…