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Drawing a parallel - Electricity and its Distribution

Udayakumar Nalinasekaren
Dec 19, 2010

In tCloud Computinghe previous post, we saw a very brief introduction to Cloud Computing. In this post, we will try and understand it better using a parallel example.

Understanding another utility technology - Electricity and its distribution

Let us go to another similar technology environment.Electricity! We run fans, lights, air conditioners and refrigerators which are various applications of electricity as a technology. For that matter, the computer we talked about earlier is also an advanced application of several technologies including electrical technology.

The question is - do each of us run our own power generation plants at home? We don't! That will require each of us to invest a lot of capital to set up a plant. Second, we all need to learn how to operate and maintain a power plant. There are many more downsides to operating individual power plants. Consider noise in the neighborhood for one.

Electrical power gets fed to our home through a cable. How convenient! Instead of investing in an in- house power plant, we somehow compensate the power company for making such investment on our behalf. We pay for it (amongst other things) in every unit of electricity consumed. Second, when we do not need electricity, we do not end up with a sleeping capital equipment (and therefore save money that can be put to more productive use). We outsource the problems of optimal utilization and maintenance of an expensive capital equipment to the power company.

Drawing a Parallel to Electricity Distribution for Computing Technology

Like electrical power, is it possible to feed computing power to the home through a cable? We understood the downsides of owning technology. We make upfront investments and lock up money in it. We need to maintain the technology so that it is available, reliable and performs optimally for us when we need it. We need to worry about the return on investment. Today most of us own at least one computer - a desktop or laptop. Imagine the number of powered down computers in many homes when they are not in use. That is sleeping capital. Another fact is, today's computers are highly productive machines. Think of the fact that the computer is only using a fraction of it's capacity when running PacMan or even a word processor for you.

A computer remains in idle state for more than 90% of the powered up time when executing the most common programs. Now think of the millions of homes around the world which have a computer that is either switched off or is idling. What a colossal underconsumption of computing power and capital?

Underconsumption can potentially result in saving. Does this underconsumption result in any saving or productivity gains? The answer is a big no. All the unconsumed computing power (invested money) and the electical energy used to power up the computer (operating cost) that is idling are thrown to waste. Because the link between underconsumption and savings/productivity gains is broken, the economic engine in this context is choking.

To transmit power to your home through a cable, the ingenious human race had to mature efficient methods of transferring that energy, measure the amount of individual consumption and set up methods for invoicing and collecting money for actual usage from individual homes. Similarly, to transmit computing power to your home, maturity of data transmission methods, measurement techniques and billing methods are required.

The parallel of electrical power distribution seems to perform nicely thus far. In reality, there are big differences. What are they? We will see them in forthcoming posts.

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