IBM has highlighted what it sees as its central role in 'eBusiness On Demand', with companies paying for IT requirements as a variable cost that falls and rises with use. But the outlook seems to suggest that a vast number of information utilities will evolve, and rivals such as Sun are likely to give IBM a run for its money.
IBM's On Demand strategy is obviously a self-serving vision; one that plays to IBM's largess and its hubris, and big business is probably going to eat it up. But if IBM thinks there won't be numerous information utilities established, and cut-throat competition among them, it is overlooking a serious factor.
One only need look at the commercialization of the Internet, and the proliferation of some 10,000 service providers in the US alone in the 1990s, to see what is going to happen. Many predicted rapid consolidation among ISPs, especially as AT&T, AOL, MSN, and others joined in. But it didn't happen, because big email and web service providers don't cover every niche, and they don't please every potential customer. Information utilities, if they are created and thrive, will be no different.
Big companies will build their own utilities or have IBM Global Services or Electronic Data Systems do it, but most companies will probably just find a service provider to augment their internal machines and their applications. A large part of what On Demand is about is fulfilling the promise of application service providers. We've heard all of this before. But now the distributed computing and application service providing vision has been jacked up one level to Java and .NET Web services and implemented (in theory) with grid computing, resource virtualization, and autonomic-systems-management technologies.
None of this is really available today, but pieces of it are. You can do some On Demand stuff today with IBM gear, and Hewlett Packard and Sun Microsystems also have some relevant offerings, by virtue of their Utility Data Center and N1 efforts. To HP's credit, UDC is a real product today, but HP doesn't seem to know how to sell it. Sun ruled the ISP business for years, and that is what fueled its growth. If utilities proliferate and Sun can get its N1 products out the door, it has every shot at giving IBM a run for its money.
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