Are cloud services the new electricity

By Andrew Woodward posted 02-26-2013 17:04



In the 1880s the War of the Currents was being waged between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over the way electricity should be provided. Edison, backing his patented direct current, initially took the lead becoming the standard for the United States. However his direct current solution had a major drawback:

“To keep losses to an economically practical level the Edison DC system needed thick cables and local generators. Early DC generating plants needed to be within about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of the farthest customer to avoid excessively large and expensive conductors.”

In contrast Westinghouse saw the benefits of alternating current (AC) and invested heavily in the technology and licenses needed to provide it.  Through the use of step up and step down transformers it could be transferred, at much high voltages with less loss, over much larger distances and to a greater number of customers. 

Today we don’t see lots of local power stations providing electricity to a small collection of people, we see very large power stations providing services over huge distances to many millions of people.

In a similar way since the start of the digital revolution we have seen a growth in the localised IT services.  Every company set up their own computer room, investing heavily in the necessary power and cooling needed to make it run. It wasn’t practical (or even possible) to transmit the information over large distances effectively – and it certainly wasn’t an option to buy your IT as a simple $/use bases.

Lots of companies took a small step by bringing in an IT service supplier to provide them with the computing power they needed. You could argue that this is a bit like people in the 1880 moving from having gas lamps to using the services of Thomas Edison to light the streets.

In 2013, and through significant investment in technology and licenses by companies, we now have the infrastructure in place to transmit information over vast distances economically and securely via commoditized services over the internet.

Nearly everything we do today with computers and mobile phones make use of these cloud based services, from email to twitter to buying books. And as with the ‘war of the currents’ the battle seems to be reaching an inevitable conclusion, the new Alternating Current.

If your resisting the move to cloud based services today, you likely won’t have much of a choice in the future.

I will leave you with one twist.  The push for green energy is resulting in many homes installing local power generators using wind or solar power, which the excess is fed back into the grid. Could we see a future where the extra CPU power and storage in your computer, TV or mobile phone is provided back into the grid for others to consume?

Post inspired by quote from Graham O’Dwyer