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Saturday
Jul262008

The (Futile) Search for Fungibility in Cloud Computing

While catching up on some reading (typical for early Saturday mornings), I came across a number of posts about the Cloud Computing Camp held earlier this month in London. Among them, this post from Phil Wainewright re-surfaced a point that's irritated me for years. It's a point that Phil (and others like Dan Farber) seem willing to ignore for the sake of a nice looking metaphor.

Phil, Dan and others rightfully take issue with the notion of "utility computing" in which one draws (in an on-demand fashion) compute power from a commercial source ... At this point, some overzealous commentator (not Phil, and not Dan) invokes the "electricity grid" and "power utility" image, from which we draw electricity with the simple act of plugging into a wall socket and paying the bill at the end of the month.

What's irritating is that so many people fall into this trap, and try to make the case that there's no standard definition of units (like kilowatt hour or barrel of oil) on which to price. The discussion (or argument) which then ensues seems pointless to me. The mix of CPU-RAM hours, GBs of storage and MBs of communication are simply not sufficient to describe and distinguish the use of "utility compute resources".

If I were to turn the metaphor on its head, I would be looking for such a highly configurable, individually customized source of electric power, that it might sound like:

I would like to purchase and have delivered to 1234 Elm Street, Anytown USA the following service: three-phase, alternating current at 47 cycles per second, with a deviation of no more than 2 cycles per second in any 5 minute interval, beginning with 2.245 amps during the daylight hours in Kyoto (adjusted seasonally) and scalable in night time to as much as 3.14159 amps.


The point is that, independent of finding a convenient pricing unit, the resource(s) we make use of from a compute utility are rarely, if ever, fungible when we go beyond the most basic parts of the infrastructure.

Utility computing, cloud computing, and (oh no!! he's going to say it!!) grid computing are examples of mass customization, applied to the definition and delivery of a production facility -- a factory. The value of the service resides in the ability of the customer to (easily and successfully) specify the requirement, act as his own "designer" of the facility, and then make use of it. The price point has a lot LESS to do with the cost of an hour of dual-core 1.8 MHz X86 with 8 Gigs of RAM, and a lot more to do with the configuration, operation, administration and management of the customer's "personalized" product facility. There are damn few standard pricing units for the construction and use of a factory.

There.... I feel better now.

fungible - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

being of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in the satisfaction of an obligation

Mass customization - Wikipedia
Mass customization, in marketing, manufacturing, and management, is the use of flexible computer-aided manufacturing systems to produce custom output. Those systems combine the low unit costs of mass production processes with the flexibility of individual customization.

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