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Computing as a commodity

There is a key concept that links Utility Computing, Grid, Service-Oriented Architecture, Virtualisation and several more slippery terms as well. That concept is of computing as a commodity. This is not the same as computers being a commodity - we're all used to that, whether we're buying a home PC by mail order or building even mid-range servers from similar machines. Commodity computing lets us use computing resources or services when we need them and only when we need them. It takes several forms.

The most obvious example is Utility Computing, where a vendor (such as Sun or Amazon) provide you with CPU cycles or storage space and you pay for what you use. Web hosting companies operate on a similar basis, just slightly higher up the software stack. But other examples show that the same basic idea can operate within a company.

Trader Media are a classic example of how computing can be a virtual commodity within a company. They started with the classic setup of separate servers for web, database, business logic & development for each web product, with a complete set of duplicates for backup and failover. They now have a common set of servers with services deployed over them as necessary. Their server utilisation has risen from the industry average of 10% to about 50% and they are aiming for higher rates still. Larger industries can supply services to whichever departments need them, using internal accounting mechanisms much as in the inter-enterprise cases. So we can have a separation between servers and services.

Similarly, companies can provide services themselves as commodities. These can become parts of larger systems stretching across multiple companies. This is a small market as yet but there are enough examples out there to prove the concept.

All these scenarios are underpinned by common technological ideas. So although one term may become unfashionable and another take its place, or while one vendor's system may lose favour and another become more popular, we can see that the key concept that links them all remains the same. Computing is becoming a commodity.

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