Carr: Utility Data Centers Will Transform IT

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The advanced data centers being built today are laying the groundwork for a major transformation of information technology, according to IT author and blogger Nicholas Carr, who shared his views at Savvis’ Data Center Expansion Tour Thursday night in Piscataway, N.J.

“The building we are in today is part of much bigger trend that is transforming the way we think about computers and computing,” said Carr, speaking at the opening of Savvis new 88,000 square foot data center, which houses part of the company’s utility hosting operation.

Carr’s talk served as a preview of his upcoming book, The Big Switch, which envisions utility computing driving wholesale changes in society. Skeptics note that some vendors have been predicting the imminent arrival of utility computing for years, but Carr believes a tipping point can clearly be seen in the rapid adoption of a new generation of web-based services.


“If you look outside the business world and look at how you use your computer and your kids use their computers, you quickly find that the utility model has already arrived for consumers,” said Carr. “It used to be that when they use their computers, everything they did was from their local hard drive. Now most everything they do is being served up from big servers in data centers across the Internet.

“Is that trend going to stop at the door of the business?” asked Carr. “Logically speaking, you know that it isn’t.”

Carr compares the coming utility computing revolution to the transformation of American industry by the availability of grid power, as he notes in the summary of The Big Switch:

A hundred years ago, companies stopped generating their own power with steam engines and dynamos and plugged into the newly built electric grid. The cheap power pumped out by electric utilities didn’t just change how businesses operate. It set off a chain reaction of economic and social transformations that brought the modern world into existence. Today, a similar revolution is under way. Hooked up to the Internet’s global computing grid, massive information-processing plants have begun pumping data and software code into our homes and businesses. This time, it’s computing that’s turning into a utility.

Carr, who blogs about IT at Rough Type, sees a similar shift ahead for enterprise computing. U.S. companies in the mid-1800s “thought running their own power supply was intrinsic to what they did,” he said, just as corporations see information technology as intrinsic to their business today.

“We finally have the (computing) grid,” said Carr. “The Internet suddenly opens up communications so that we can now supply IT from a distance. We have the technology required to operate these plants.”

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.