The Big Switch: The Future of Utility Computing

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If you’re tracking how data centers are transforming the Internet economy, you’ll be interested in Nicholas Carr’s new book, The Big Switch. Data center infrastructure is a central player in Carr’s book, which looks at the emergence of utility computing and compares the ongoing platform shift to the rise of the power grid in the early years of the 20th century. I received an advance copy of the book, which goes on sale today and is subtitled “Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google.” It is thoroughly reported and well written, and makes for engaging and provocative reading.

Not everyone will agree with Carr’s arguments and conclusions. Carr is widely known in IT circles for his article and subsequent book titled “IT Doesn’t Matter,” which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer once described as “hogwash.” Carr foresees a future in which utility computing and third-party data centers take over many of the tasks currently performed by in-house IT staffers and facilities. Vericenter, Savvis, 3tera and other data center specialists are discussed, along with the utility computing efforts of Google and Amazon.


The trends and companies featured in the book will be familiar to most of our regular readers. The Big Switch seeks to place these events in a historic context and use that framework to look ahead to changes that may follow.

“Seeing the economic advantages of the utility model, corporations are rethinking the way they buy and use information technology,” Carr writes in his opening chapter. “Rather than devoting a lot of cash to purchasing computers and software programs, they are beginning to plug into the new grid. That shift promises to change not only the nature of corporate IT departments but to shake up the entire industry. Big tech companies – Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, IBM, and all the rest – have made tons of money selling the same systems to thousands of companies. As computing becomes more centralized, many of those sales will dry up.”

The shift is certainly underway. Carr doesn’t offer precise timetables, but I suspect he and I might disagree about the pace of adoption for utility computing. Security and compliance concerns will likely keep many of America’s largest corporations minding their own infrastructure for some time to come, leaving enough time for some of the aforementioned big tech companies to adapt.

Carr’s book certainly offers food for thought about the new paradigm as it expands his exploration of these issues at his Rough Type blog.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large 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.