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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Putting Computing Power on Tap -Part II

Businessweek writes, Running corporate servers is still nowhere near as easy as turning on a faucet. Now lots of companies are working hard to change that. In Part 1 of the article, we saw the evolution of utility computing and the intersections needed in the technology world to make utility computing happen. Part II shall focus mostly on newer approaches to utility computing. Excerpts :

TAGGING DATA - More recently, companies such as EMC and Veritas Software have been working on technology and processes to help companies lower their storage costs by finding the most cost-effective way to stash info. While an e-mail may be kept on a $1 million piece of storage equipment when it's first created, it will eventually be archived on cheap tape drives. EMC and Veritas are developing ways to make sure that data is stored in the right spot -- cheap tape or pricey disk drives. More innovation is on the way. Network Appliance is looking at ways to develop a more flexible "storage grid," that would create a powerful directory to give every piece of data an ID tag of sorts. That way, it could be immediately spotted by any server in the corporate network, without human intervention. "In a true utility computing model, you're switching computers in and out all the time -So you want every data object to be accessible by every [server] -- just like you want your browser to be able to get to everything on the Web."

The same is true in networking. One problem for companies is that on the public Internet every bit of data has the same priority, a pirated song being downloaded by a teen or a $1 million trade being executed by a major brokerage. Now, a number of industry groups are trying to set standards to add "quality-of-service" capabilities to the Net. That way, companies that wanted to pay slightly more money can get guaranteed delivery speeds. Companies ought to be able to call up the network resources they need, when they need it - Networking suppliers can't do this alone. We need the participation of the computing and applications folks." In some cases, big tech companies are looking to compete as well as collaborate. Sun acquired a small company called Nauticus earlier this year to help it install basic networking capabilities right in its servers. IBM and Cisco Systems are also expected to blur the lines between their traditional silos in the tech industry as they race to solve the utility question.

Dozens of startups are looking for entirely new ways to solve the problem. Netezza,makes a innovative kind of server that companies can use to do sophisticated data analysis, such as a phone company figuring out the profitability of a new promotion. Preconfigured with hundreds of disk drives and sophisticated database software, anyone on the company network can tap the Netezza server to get instant answers to tough questions without slowing down the company's day-to-day business. Rather than focus on just lowering storage costs, this approach lets companies get answers they couldn't afford to even ask in the past, says Netezza CEO Jit Saxena, who says the company has sold 35 of the $1.5 million machines.
On the other hand, Azul Systems, a startup in Mountain View, Calif., has developed a new server computer that's designed to provide a massive amount of processing power that other servers can tap into to handle day-to-day computing jobs. "There's a lot of good work being done to solve these problems with existing technologies. That's a good thing, and it's necessary," says Shahin Khan, a former Sun marketing executive who just joined Azul. "But wouldn't it be nice if we could go build new technology that's designed for this next era?" Whether it's tech industry's giants or a new class of startups that push computing into the easy-to-use world of utilities, customers will benefit the most.

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