The massive infrastructure investments being made by companies like Google, Amazon, eBay, and Microsoft are having interesting consequences. First, we get 500,000 computers at Google indexing the Web for us, for free. Then, via Amazon Web Services, we get on-demand access to storage, computing, and (most recently) message delivery, all via simple Web service interfaces--not for free, but at a relatively low cost.
Nicholas "IT Doesn't Matter" Carr reported recently on a speech and an interview by Jeff Bezos on Amazon's forays into Web services. Carr's posting, and subsequent comments, raise some interesting questions about the economics of IT as a utility. If Amazon's current offering takes advantage of the fact that its computers are often idle, what happens as demand increases? When is it better to outsource vs. insource? We don't understand such issues yet, but I can't help suspecting that that crazy "grid" idea is becoming very real.
Carr perhaps views Amazon Web Services as support for his view that IT has become a commodity. But grid utilities providing computing, storage, and other basic functions seem likely rather to spur explosive innovation in IT applications. What new applications we will see? (Those described for Amazon seem, so far, rather dull: e.g., backup and picture archiving.) Will those new applications demand new capabilities from utilities, spurring differentiation? And when will people want to deploy their own implementations of these services, rather than trusting to others to provide them?
Our Globus software provides grid utility services such as GRAM (on-demand service deployment), Workspaces (virtual machines), and GridFTP (storage). These services have interfaces richer than those of similar Amazon Web Services, and the additional capabilities have proved important when deploying those services at remote locations and when using them to implement higher-level services such as policy-driven data delivery (e.g., DRS) and distributed computing (e.g., VDS). However, I believe that some fairly simple refactoring can allow those same higher-level services to drive operations on utilities provided by the likes of Amazon. That will make it feasible for users to mix outsourced and insourced IT functions in interesting ways.