The big question I keep asking myself is, “Is cloud a utility yet?” In other words, can I choose an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud based on utility pricing and expect the same thing I expect from a utility—as in, “it just works”—or is there more to it than that? In order to decide if the cloud is a utility yet, we need first to define the traits of a utility. There is a difference between electricity and gas, as well as between water and trash services. If cloud is a utility today, which type is it?
So, what are the requirements of a utility?
- Pay for use
- Support up to the connection to the building (residence)
- Simple to use (turn a knob, flip a switch, etc.)
- Living without it is cumbersome at best
- Help exists to fix any issues with the utility
- Utilities offer tune-ups to improve conservation of the utilities’ resources
- Notifications outage reporting by utility users and reported by utility via some easy-to-use method
- Are fundamental with no real dependencies.
With these traits in mind, we can further discuss each utility
Water is ubiquitous. It is pay-for-use in a tiered fashion, is supported by the water company up to the connection to the residence or building, and is incredibly simple to use. It is cumbersome at best not to have utility water due to problems such as well issues, purification, etc. The utility does offer suggestions for water conservation, such as using rain barrels or ollas and adopting certain gardening practices. A water resource has plumbers for assistance, and reporting of outages, boil-water notices, and the like occur via news and modern communication tools (à la social media, websites, etc.)
Water is very simple to use, so much so that even cats and dogs can learn how to turn on a tap to let in cold water. The only complex things most people need to address with regard to water are determining what type of water heater to use, choosing a plumber, and understanding any regulatory controls. For example, in some states it is not legal for homeowners to work on plumbing. They must call a plumber for installation and repair, so that the equipment used to sweat and seal pipes (such as blowtorches) is used by professionals instead of those with no training.
Water is a vital resource that humanity cannot live without with no dependencies on any other utility. Many water utilities are attempting to conserve that resource, specifically in drought conditions, hence the rise of rainwater collection and utilization.
Like water, waste disposal is a utility service. It is ubiquitous, with much to choose from in some way. However, unlike water, waste accrues back to the earth in the form of landfills, which take up quite a bit of space. To save on costs, waste disposal utilities offer recycling, which not only conserves space but provides a means to reuse much of our refuse.
Unlike water, waste disposal is very hands-on for the utility user. While it is simple in that we put things in barrels and they are hauled off to the landfill for us, it is also difficult, as we now need to either place everything in one barrel or split between recycling and trash. Understanding what can be recycled is, once more, the responsibility of the utility user. I would not claim that waste disposal is easy these days due to all the options, but it is easy compared to doing it yourself, which implies using lots of your own land for a landfill or disposing of materials some other way.
Some folks recycle using composting and split things up by type of item to be recycled, either reusing things themselves or holding onto them for when they are needed. How much effort you put into waste disposal depends on your inclination. However, what it boils down to is that this utility can have fairly hands-on requirements and is not always simple to use.
The electricity utility is one of the more confusing utilities. It is incredibly easy to use. However, at the same time, for a small class of customer it offers distinctions that one must know about to use it effectively (such as the difference between residential circuitry and business circuitry). In most cases, it just works, and it is pay-per-use in a tiered fashion. You can even choose the type of energy you will buy (such as solar, wind, nuclear, or fossil fuel). The utility offers a number of options to help consumers lower energy consumption, including insulation, audits, and other mechanisms.
Notification of outages occurs through nearly all media outlets for a region, and there are electricians to help once you hit the demarcation point for your building or residence.
The network or phone (telco) is an odd beast for a utility, depending on how it is accessed. It is not 100% ubiquitous, as not all services, speeds, feeds, etc. are deliverable to all households. The most basic of services exist, but not always the advanced services. That split can occur by region, city, or even street address. As such, what you desire to have may not exist in your area. Could it exist? Perhaps, but at what cost?
Notification of outages occurs via the same means by which the outages themselves occur. In essence, you may not know there is an outage until you try to use your network or phone. There are no conservation efforts going on that are noticeable except for the paperless possibility. Yet, to go paperless requires paper to pay your bills, so eventually something gets printed. This tends to put more cost on the consumer, not the telco.
Where is the demarcation for wireless? That becomes the big question. For wired, it is easy: it is a box on the side of the building or residence. However, for wireless, it is often within a network. How do we fix issues between our wireless devices and the demarcation, such as dead zones on highways, etc.?
The payment scheme for telco is not actually pay-per-use; it is pay-per-use per service chosen. Unlike electricity, there are multiple services, and there is an upcharge for each. Simple telco billing is not, nor is the use of its myriad services. In many ways, the complexity of purchasing directly impacts the complexity of use. Telco is dependent upon Electricity.
In many ways, a cloud is just like a wireless network presented by a telco. In fact, telcos are what most clouds are modeled after. However, by our definition, a telco may not be a utility, as it is not easy to use, it is often confusing to set up, it has no means of conservation, and it has nothing leading directly up to most buildings or residences, due to the proliferation of wireless.
There is no conservation of vital resources going on within a cloud. Clouds are instead growing physical plant by leaps and bounds. The cloud services themselves do not offer advice or tune-ups unless you want to pay for those services as well.
In addition, clouds are not “set up and run.” Instead, you need to plan, install, configure, architect, and pretty much do exactly what you do for any data center before you enter a cloud. Clouds are also not ubiquitous. I cannot take a workload from another cloud and plug it in just like I can a lamp or a phone.
So, for clouds we have:
- NOT ubiquitous
- Pay for use plus many different add-ons and upcharges
- Does NOT support up to the connection to the building (residence)
- Is NOT simple to use (turn a knob, flip a switch, etc.)
- Living with it is cumbersome at best
- Help exists to fix any issues with the utility
- Clouds do NOT offer tune-ups to improve conservation of the utility’s resources
- Cloud outages are reported by utility via an easy-to-use method
- Is NOT independent as Cloud is dependent upon Telco and Electricity
There are lots of NOTs in that list. Today, I would classify clouds as not yet utilities. Yet, for payment only, they act exactly like a utility such as a telco. Finding the proper fee to pay is becoming more difficult, and that is why there are new companies to help us get our heads around the cost of using a cloud: Cloud Cruiser, Akasia CloudView, and Gravitant are such services.
But as for being a utility, the cloud is not quite there yet. Most people can live without a cloud. With an IaaS cloud, things become cumbersome for some and easy for others. Clouds need to be as simple as turning on a light switch after choosing the appropriate lamp.