ICT Principles 1 of 8: Utility Computing

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April 3, 2012 by Jim Morton

This is the first of eight blog posts which will describe our general principles for ICT; these are the major ideas that underpin our formal strategy documents and will influence our decision making in the coming years. For a list of all of the principles see this previous post.

Our first principle is one that is repeated mantra-like across all areas of our strategy. Helpfully for me this first post it is also one of the most easy to explain and easy to understand principles:

“Utility Computing: We prefer to use services that can be provided to us as a utility by a third party, rather than create or manage them ourselves.”

So, there are two things that I need to explain: firstly, what is utility computing? Secondly, why are we so keen to use it instead of doing things ourselves?

WHAT IS IT?

To explain the idea of utility computing, I’m going to rely on an incredibly overused analogy – but at least I’m including some pictures and a bit of interactivity to try and brighten things up.

Which of the following options best illustrates what is involved when you want to turn the TV on?

An attempt at pictorially representing the difference between utility and in-house computing using electricity supply as a dodgy analogy

All things being equal, you probably selected ‘Option B’ – it is much easier, convenient and safer to consume electricity as a utility rather then generate it yourself – and in most instances cheaper too.

This type of utility supply became possible due to advances in technology and the gradual acceptance of standards – coupled with the economic law regarding economies of scale. The same conditions have changed the way in which ICT services can be delivered and consumed.

Thanks to advances in computing power and capability, along with the standards that have been created by the widespread adoption of the world wide web – it is now possible to consume all sorts of services that would previously require you to invest in all sorts of kit and learn lots of technical detail. This is even extending to services that previously may not have been seen as part of the ICT domain – Do you need a DVD/Blu-Ray player and physical discs when your internet enabled TV can stream unlimited films straight to you whenever you like, for a monthly fee equivalent to two pints of Guinness?

For an ICT department like us, Utility, or Cloud Computing provides a range of tools that we can make use of, from vanilla services like storage to reduce the amount of disk space that we have to purchase and maintain, through to full blown applications like our Google Mail roll out which negates development effort as well as software and hardware procurement and support.

WHY DO WE WANT TO DO THIS?

It might seem counter-intuitive for the ICT department to be promoting something that could be seen as replacing a large part of what we do, but there are a number of clear reasons why this approach has to be embraced:

  • Flexibility: As there are no traditional set-up activities, we can try out and start using services much more rapidly – no more waiting for a server to arrive and get plugged in before a new application is available to the customer. This change in physical context also creates other benefits – you may not need to be attached to our network to use applications and services – leading to clear opportunities in flexible working.
  • Cost savings and efficiency: You might have noticed that things are a bit tight in the cash department at the moment, I think there was something in the news about it. The chances of us having to deal with anything other than large reductions in our budget over at least the next five years are roughly equivalent to my chances of winning the hundred metres at the Olympics after scooping the jackpot on the lottery. So it is vital that we make use of the potentially huge capital and revenue savings that utility computing offers.
  • Pressure on resources: Alongside our rather depressing financial  outlook, we still have plenty to do, especially in terms of exploiting ICT to deliver richer electronic services to the public. The most classic case of doing more with less since England tried to win the world cup while playing Danny Mills at right back. So we must make use of utility services where they can be quickly exploited to fulfill requirements.
  • New Exciting Stuff: On a less depressing note, utility and cloud services include all sorts of innovative and exciting services and communication platforms that we will be able to use and exploit without having to invent them.

So that was principle number one, the next principle getting the ‘WHAT?’ and ‘WHY?’ treatment will be the enigmatically titled Reuse.

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