Utility computing: Rolling along despite identity crisis
Technology makers moved ahead with utility computing strategies in
2003, despite a lack of agreement on what utility computing really is or
what it should cost.
In many ways, the definition of "utility computing" seems fuzzier
than ever. Ideally, say analysts, the idea of utility computing is to
offer software and business applications on an outsourced basis, whether
those services are offered to paying customers or to users within a
company's firewall. The software and applications can be allocated in
varying amounts, depending on a customer's need at any given time.
But in reality, companies grouped everything from grid computing to
autonomous systems management to plain old outsourcing deals under the
utility computing umbrella, in 2003. The definition seems to be in the
eye of the beholder--or of the technology seller, in this case.
This year, the major systems makers--IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun
Microsystems and Computer Associates--launched new utility initiatives
that were tied to their respective strategies. But software giant
Microsoft and PC maker Dell remained on the sidelines, unconvinced that
utility plans would help their bottom lines.
IBM, which in many ways started the utility stampede last year by
pledging to spend $10 billion on utility initiatives, is the most
ambitious player in the market. Over the course of 2003, Big Blue
announced plans to rent out computing power, to retool its server
software, and even to make a play for online gamers--all in the name of
furthering its on-demand efforts. It also inked some big-ticket deals
with on-demand customers.
Still, IBM acknowledges that it sometimes has trouble explaining utility
computing to potential buyers.
HP announced its Adaptive Enterprise effort in the spring, and then
spent much of the rest of the year attempting to define it. Not
surprisingly, its plan hinges on its server business, but also extends
to its PC and printer units. HP's message is clearly a work in progress,
as several of the company's executives--including its CEO, Carly
Fiorina--struggled at times to define it. Curiously, Fiorina had no
trouble defining grid computing, which is a cornerstone of IBM's rival
utility initiative, as overhyped.
Sun's N1 concept of united computing resources took shape in
2003, as the tech giant acquired several companies to bolster the plan's
underlying technology. Sun also signed up 60 early customers for N1 and
inked a deal with Siebel Systems under which it will help provide a
hosted version of the software maker's business products.
Computer Associates jumped into the utility computing market in April,
with plans to add new system provisioning tools to its Unicenter system
management software. Later in the year, it introduced additional utility
computing-related management products.
Some software makers also were busy on the utility front.
Salesforce.com continued to sign up customers for its on-demand business
applications, while rival Siebel acquired a company and inked
partnership deals with Sun, IBM and BT to back its own hosted service.