From the back cover: "'The Big Switch,' Nicholas Carr's best-selling look at the new computer revolution, makes a simple and profound statement: Computing is turning into a utility, and the effects of this transition will ultimately change society as completely as the advent of cheap electricity did. From the software business to the newspaper business, from job creation to community formation, from national defense to personal identity, The Big Switch provides a panoramic view of the new world being conjured from the circuits of the 'World Wide Computer.'"
This thought-provoking book traces the parallels between the discovery of electricity and the development of the power utility and the resulting electrification of America and the invention of the microchip in 1971 (only 40 years ago!) and the trend toward utility computing. In both cases there were technological hurdles to overcome, but the economic advantages of scale drove the innovation that resolved the problems.
For economical distribution of electricity it was alternating current that enabled power to be delivered over long distances that displaced Thomas Edison's preference for direct current generation which required power plants on site or in close proximity to the end user. In the case of utility computing, bandwidth has been the limitation, but now, since enough fiber cable has been laid to encircle the earth 11,000 times, most companies are able to access computational services at the same speed available from internal systems.
Carr notes that many of the characteristics that define American society came into being only in the aftermath of electrification. The rise of the middle class, the expansion of public education, the flowering of mass culture, the movement of the population to the suburbs, and the shift from an industrial to a service economy. None of these would have been possible without the cheap current generated by utilities.
When you consider the fact that most internal servers are utilized at less than 25% capacity, you begin to understand why the adoption of cloud computing is growing so rapidly. As we use more and more intelligent mobile devices to access web services and the personal computer dissolves into new form factors we will witness the transformation of computing from internal data centers to the cloud in the same way electricity evolved from on-premises steam plant generation to massively scalable power utility distribution.
If you're interested in the technological and economic forces that are shaping our destiny and you'd like a glimpse of our likely future, you'll enjoy reading The Big Switch.
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Until next time,