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Utilising IT.

Utility computing has been one of the hottest topics on the CIO agenda in recent years and was the main focus of debate at Information Age's most recent lunchtime panel discussion. Participants with backgrounds in a broad range of industries looked at what utility computing meant to them and explored how, and indeed whether, they would move towards a utility model.

The roundtable debate was the latest in a series of meetings with Information Age readers examining the issues that matter to them - which topics dominate the corporate agenda and which are dismissed as marketing fluff. The conversations are held on a 'background' basis -- meaning that no comments can be attributed to any attendee or their company and ensuring an open and frank airing of opinions. computing as a utility

service Computing as a utility service

During the October roundtable debate, sponsored by IT infrastructure services company Computacenter, the delegates homed in on the subject of utility computing. While some saw it as an opportunity to increase the IT department's value to the business, others saw it as a threat. There was also considerable discussion as to the true definition of utility computing.

The debate polarised opinions around the table: some saw utility computing as a natural progression of attempts to maximise the utilisation of IT resources; others viewed it as just another phase of an ongoing swing between centralised and decentralised infrastructures. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that, while utility computing has made it onto the corporate agenda, few of the delegates had any solid strategies in place for implementation.

Given the immaturity of the technology, it is understandable that delegates reported a wide range of perceptions of utility computing. For some, it represents purely a more efficient outsourcing model, where processing power is delivered as required by a third party and the customer is charged simply for the amount of processing power used. Others viewed utility computing as a model to centralise the IT infrastructure, with the intention of providing a more cost-effective service, with the capacity to charge individual business units for the resources they use.

The European IT manager at one high-tech manufacturer described how his organisation had taken steps to globalise its IT resources, but it still maintains a level of local autonomy where appropriate. Maintaining that structure in a utility world might be a challenge, he said. While utility IT promises to deliver the required processing power on tap, locally held software will be an issue, he said: "It's not clear how you go about manipulating software."

The majority of delegates reported seeing utility computing as a service that involved outsourcing the entire infrastructure to a third-party supplier. The head of IT at a UK energy company felt businesses would be uncomfortable with a wholesale shift to a utility service: "At this stage, I'm not sure how possible that is: how are you going to differentiate between the generic and the business-specific, core stuff?"

"Our business units already pay an IT tax: they pay for what they use. We've already got an internal utility model."

"Utility is basically an outsourcing option; businesses are only going to look at it for non-core applications such as email."

"Utility is alright, but having two or three vendors coming together to deliver it inevitably means problems around who's responsible when things go wrong."
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Publication:Information Age (London, UK)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 10, 2004
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