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Krissi Danielson

Distinguishing Cloud Computing from Utility Computing

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"Cloud computing" is increasingly becoming one of those buzz words of the moment, and as tends to happen with buzz words (or phrases, in this case), it can be confusing to understand exactly what everything is and how the various technologies differ from one another. 3Tera Inc is a company that focuses on utility computing, and I recently got some interesting responses from 3Tera Chairman and CEO Barry X Lynn on how utility computing compares to cloud computing.

For those of us who aren't totally up to speed on the difference, can you summarize the difference between utility computing and cloud computing (in 75 words or less)?

Lynn: That would be analogous to trying to talk about the differences between electricity and a generator. So, I prefer talking about how one relates to the other, rather than the differences.

Cloud computing enables users and developers to utilize services without knowledge of, expertise with, nor control over the technology infrastructure that supports them. It is, almost literally, operating the service in a cloud. That's a good thing, because many companies lack the ability or desire to work with infrastructure. Utility computing, conversely, provides on-demand infrastructure with the ability to control, scale, and configure that infrastructure. At 3tera, we believe that a utility is necessary in order to build a reliable cloud.

How are cloud and utility computing different from Software as a Service?

Lynn: Again, I think it's best to define these things, rather than say how they differ. Software as a Service (SaaS) is, simply, a software enabled service that is offered on the web, on month to month subscription or on a pay per use basis, rather than having to purchase or license the software. Technically, SaaS does not have to be offered in a cloud, but given the nature of the SaaS business model, it's hard to conceive that running it in an environment other than a functional utility or cloud, makes much business sense in most cases.

Are cloud and utility computing closely related to virtualization technology? How do the two mix?

Lynn: Today, it is hard to understand how effective utility and cloud computing can be offered without using virtualization. However, there are many forms of virtualization used in utility computing, from virtual machines, to virtual storage and network virtualization and these still comprise just a few of many required technologies.

As an enterprise, you do not have to be a virtualization user already in order to benefit from cloud and utility computing.

But the true utility computing model is based on virtualization, because this is the way to get all the benefits that come with the utility, including scalability, ease of use, and affordable pricing.

What should people know about trends in cloud computing, utility computing, and virtualization as Web 2.0 (or Web 3.0, depending on whom you talk to) becomes more and more of a factor in the enterprise?

Lynn: SaaS and Web 2.0 offerings are becoming more and more prominent in enterprises, but they are probably the least predictable systems businesses run with regard to volume, resource needs, performance, etc.

Smart enterprises are starting to run these applications in clouds and utilities that scale up and down dynamically, securely linking them to their data centers. As acceptance and confidence in the utility grows, they will start moving things currently in their data centers to the utility as well.

Anything else you would like to add?

Lynn: A lot of companies give lip service to utility computing, but they only offer a small piece of what makes up a true utility.

To use another analogy, if you as an individual pick up a telephone, you get the same dial tone and ability to make calls as General Motors. You just pay less because you use it less.

If you, as a small business, plug something into the wall, you get the same 110 volts 60 Hz alternating current as Microsoft gets. You just pay less because you use less.

Largely, though, that is not true of computing and IT today. Not many businesses can afford to have access and build IT infrastructure that is available to the Fortune 500 companies. A real utility computing platform can change this. It should enable you to affordably have access to, and use of, the same world-class information technology as any Fortune 500 company. You would just pay less, because you use less. Of course, if you use a lot, even enterprise amounts, it's still a great deal. It's all about scalability up and down. Pay for what you need and use. Why would anyone ever pay more than that? You get to deploy applications instantly with infrastructure that grows and shrinks with your business needs."

That's what 3Tera does!

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