Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Challenge of the Computer Utility

When I started this blog my intent was to stay clear of work related subjects, but it is not easy considering that computers and technology in general are all around us. Plus, work is something I spend a lion share of my time on (as do many people). So, I decided to declare it to be unavoidable!
When doing research for the Cloud Computing whitepaper, I came across a reference to the following book - "The Challenge of the Computer Utility" by Douglas F. Parkhill (ISBN-10: 0201057204). "Could this really be?" I thought. A book on computer utility published in 1966? This definitely sparked my interest and through the power of cloud services at Amazon.com I was able, within minutes, to find and procure the book at a great price of only $7.70! It arrived a few days later and I got right to it. The book certainly exceeded my expectations as the author projects a great clarity of thought. Two main reasons I liked the book:
  • It provides a good historical overview of where computer science, computing methods and machines came from (and since I have worked with mainframes, punch cards, reel tapes, etc. - I could really relate to that). It has great logical diagrams as well as pictures of "systems of the old" (IBM System 360-67, UNIVAC 492, CDC 6600). When you look at them, you can't help but think of how far we have come in the last 45 years or so. 
  • It is amazing how well the author covers the grand vision of computer utility and how similar, at times, this vision is to the Cloud Computing (Grid/Super/Utility Computing) hype of today. It is also interesting to see that even though we made a giant technological leap, the basic challenges are still there and remain pretty much the same - economic considerations, legal factors, security concerns, and issues around social transformation.
Let me reiterate, this book was written in 1966, we are talking about 45 years ago! In mid-80 and early-90 I have seen and worked with “room-size computers” (mainframes, punch cards, reel tapes, memory modules the size of the file cabinet, and hard drives that one person could not lift). And I must admit, my limited knowledge and dull imagination did not allow me to envision anything like this:
"As time goes on we can expect that the local financial utilities will be interconnected to create a nationwide and eventually worldwide network that will permit a customer to make money-key transactions no matter where he travels. The range of services offered by the utility will also grow. Terminals, perhaps based on the expanded touch-tone scheme, will be made available to private homes, and these will be used not only for paying bills but also for preparing income-tax statements, making purchases, checking bank balances, maintaining up-to-the-second files on all household financial obligations and assets, and even consummating loans, buying insurance, and making stock-market investments."
"As the utility networks grow and the cost of quires become trivially small, it is likely that consumers will come to depend more and more on the computer utility for information concerning products and services of all kinds. Promotional and advertising material will probably represent part of the information, and as low-cost visual displays become generally available, very elaborate product presentations will become practical. These presentations could well combine the best features of television and catalog advertising and provide consumers with a sort of animated Sears Roebuck catalog in which pictures would spring into vivid life as the remote customers turned the electronic pages."
All in all, this is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to learn more about Cloud Computing roots.


  1. When you combine the power and security of on-premise software and efficiency and scalability of the cloud in a hybrid system you end up with the best of both worlds and can greatly reduce the security risk associated with cloud computing and often times have a more cost effective solution to boot.
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  2. Sam is right, y must think about cyber security and keep your documentation in safe place, at least vdr.
    security online