Where the Clouds Meet The Ground

The Economist has a feature on Cloud computing.  An audio is available here.

Nicholas Carr summarizes The Economist article.

The Economist tours the cloud

October 25, 2008

The new issue of The Economist features a good primer on cloud computing, written by Ludwig Siegele, which looks at trends in data centers, software, networked devices, and IT economics and speculates about the broader implications for businesses and nations. A free pdf of the entire report is also available.

Siegele notes that the hype surrounding the term "cloud computing" may have peaked already - Google searches for the phrase have fallen after a big spike in July - but that "even if the term is already passé, the cloud itself is here to stay and to grow. It follows naturally from the combination of ever cheaper and more powerful processors with ever faster and more ubiquitous networks. As a result, data centres are becoming factories for computing services on an industrial scale; software is increasingly being delivered as an online service; and wireless networks connect more and more devices to such offerings." The "precipitation from the cloud," he concludes (milking the passé metaphor one last time), "will be huge."

Part of the report is a specific feature on Data Centres.


Where the cloud meets the ground

Oct 23rd 2008
From The Economist print edition

Data centres are quickly evolving into service factories

Illustration by Matthew Hodson

IT IS almost as easy as plugging in a laser printer. Up to 2,500 servers—in essence, souped-up personal computers—are crammed into a 40-foot (13-metre) shipping container. A truck places the container inside a bare steel-and-concrete building. Workers quickly connect it to the electric grid, the computer network and a water supply for cooling. The necessary software is downloaded automatically. Within four days all the servers are ready to dish up videos, send e-mails or crunch a firm’s customer data.

This is Microsoft’s new data centre in Northlake, a suburb of Chicago, one of the world’s most modern, biggest and most expensive, covering 500,000 square feet (46,000 square metres) and costing $500m. One day it will hold 400,000 servers. The entire first floor will be filled with 200 containers like this one. Michael Manos, the head of Microsoft’s data centres, is really excited about these containers. They solve many of the problems that tend to crop up when putting up huge data centres: how to package and transport servers cheaply, how to limit their appetite for energy and how to install them only when they are needed to avoid leaving expensive assets idle.

But containers are not the only innovation of which Mr Manos is proud. Microsoft’s data centres in Chicago and across the world are equipped with software that tells him exactly how much power each application consumes and how much carbon it emits. “We’re building a global information utility,” he says.

Engineers must have spoken with similar passion when the first moving assembly lines were installed in car factories almost a century ago, and Microsoft’s data centre in Northlake, just like Henry Ford’s first large factory in Highland Park, Michigan, may one day be seen as a symbol of a new industrial era.