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Utility computing: Catalyst for Web services?

Could 'utility computing' be the unlikely catalyst to hasten Web services adoption?

There's no denying the frustration within the Web services community over the slow rate of adoption, especially outside the corporate firewall. Some attribute this to a lack of standards, including critical security standards; others simply believe that Web services have been over-hyped. Could 'utility computing' be the unlikely catalyst to hasten Web services adoption?

Imagine a world where companies aren't slaves to endless cycles of refreshing their expensive enterprise products. Businesses would simply plug into scalable self-healing grids that automatically monitor usage and bill accordingly. And similar to a metered electric or water bill, the customer is only charged for actual consumption. Sound like science fiction? Not if IBM, Sun, HP and others have their way.

This would be the ultimate outsourcing project – IT as a service. While it's difficult to predict any emerging technology, it's almost certain that Web services will play a key role in this next-generation data center.

Brent Sleeper, principal of The Stencil Group, a consulting and advisory services firm, agrees, saying that Web services will be the glue that makes the concept of utility computing practical.

"The idea behind grid/utility computing is the virtualization of resources," said Sleeper. "Web services, in many ways, perform a similar function for software interfaces. I see these two ideas as parts of a continuum that begins with Web services standards, embraces peer-to-peer and service-oriented architectures, and culminates with the vision of a computing utility."

The brand name varies but the futuristic concept is the same. IBM has dubbed its utility technology "On-demand," HP labels theirs UDC or "utility data center," and Sun's moniker is "N1." Big Blue alone has invested $10 billion in the belief that customers will want this pay-as-you-go pricing model.

"One of the things we heard very clearly from the early adopters of Web services we've interviewed over the past several months," said Sleeper, "is that the vision of utility computing can help motivate IT organizations to move ahead. Vision can be an important, strategic driver of investments."

Sleeper added, "In the end, however, Web services – like any technology investment – are best approached one step at a time. That's why organizations are beginning by building a more flexible integration infrastructure, even as they consciously see those projects as first steps towards the ideas represented by utility computing, ubiquitous data, and the "real-time enterprise."

The virtualization of the data center seems a foregone conclusion, but will the nascent utility computing movement be the "killer app" for Web services? The journey to utility computing will indeed prove and establish Web services as an indispensable IT component. But there may be a price to pay. After all, who really thinks about electricity or glue? The penalty for widespread Web services adoption could very well be obscurity. Welcome to the future.

Your feedback and comments on this article are welcome. You can reach the author at bsheets@techtarget.com.

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