Software vendors, hardware vendors and every other type of player in the IT world are pitching a new concept of how your infrastructure should be designed and managed. Whether it's called utility computing, on-demand computing, the adaptive enterprise or one of a hundred other evasive terms, there are two big questions that loom over it all --what the heck is it and how much is it going to cost me?
The answers are as difficult to pin down as the concept itself. Analysts, vendors and consultants might grasp it, but articulating it in terms of methodology and price is a bit tough. That's because utility computing is a concept with so many variables and configurations; there simply isn't one answer.
The Enterprise Storage Group Inc., a storage analysis firm based in Milford, Mass., defines utility computing as a malleable infrastructure capable of performing application-level quality of service, where all known costs of deriving various services are known exactly.
The firm's founder and senior analyst, Steve Duplessie, said that the infrastructure is also capable of change. "It has the ability to provide more resources for a short period of time in order to guarantee a quality of service," he said. "For example, adding more processing power to an application during peak times [and taking] it away to give it to something else later."
The industry agrees that the concept has its benefits, but what would it cost to achieve utility, adaptive, or on-demand nirvana? Duplessie said the technologies are all almost there, but they require an entire new method of architecture, which will not come without some hefty costs. "That would most likely mean real professional services help," Duplessie said.
Duplessie also said that many advanced computing concepts, like grid computing, autonomic computing and Sun's N1 architecture, will not work without first having a utility architecture in place.
Hewlett-Packard Co. is headed down the utility computing path, but it describes its approach to the utility computing infrastructure as the "adaptive enterprise" strategy.
Bob Schultz, HP's new head of network storage solutions, said the adaptive enterprise idea is all about having the discipline to manage all of IT as efficiently as possible.
"Each of our groups was working around the same themes. The adaptive enterprise brought all that together. There are pillars in the adaptive enterprise like the compute pillar and the storage pillar," Schultz said.
Schultz said users need to be able to measure, assess and maintain their IT infrastructures, then link the infrastructure to business processes. "You cannot just have a storage infrastructure," he said. "Storage exists not just in a vacuum but in an application environment, and it supports what the customer is trying to do in business."
Bob Davis, vice president of the BrightStor brand unit at Computer Associates International Inc., also subscribes to the notion of utility computing. He agreed that all of the aforementioned concepts describe the same notion, but he said that different vendors have different views on how to provide that flexible infrastructure. "Utility computing provides an infrastructure that gives the [customer] flexibility without having unused infrastructure," he said.
Davis said it is a good idea to build an on-demand infrastructure for both distributed and mainframe environments.
Earlier this month, Veritas Software Corp., in Mountain View, Calif., kicked of its own version of utility computing. Veritas said its software provides an abstraction of the physical IT infrastructure and presents it as a service to the user.
Veritas' utility computing product plans include management automation, diagnosis and resolution of problems across the whole IT infrastructure, as well as higher utilization rates.
All in all, the concept of utility computing is not too hard to grasp, and it has the potential of making IT and storage management easier. But users need to know how much equipment they need to replace, how much of their infrastructure needs to be redesigned and, most important, how much utility computing is going to cost.
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Let us know what you think about the story. E-mailKevin Komiega, News Writer