Nicholas Carr on the switch to utility computing

Computing, electricity and corporate IT

What do you recommend to CIOs and CTOs?

The first thing I recommend is staying aware of these new capabilities that are coming online and not viewing them as threatening. Even though they promise to transform or even fundamentally change the nature of IT, they're not something to be feared, because companies, CIOs and IT professionals now have many more choices, and will continue to have many more choices, as online services get better and the suppliers build their own scale and increase their own sophistication and reliability.

So really this is a trend to be welcomed because suddenly, if you're a company, you have more options in how you get the IT capabilities you need to operate your business.

Do you think corporate IT departments will shrink?

I think over the long term they will, and by long term I think this is a shift, like we saw with electricity, [over] a decade or two, particularly for larger companies.

A lot of the jobs that are inside IT departments today, in fact the majority, are related to maintaining the internal assets -- the machinery and the software that runs locally. Over time, those kinds of jobs will move from inside companies to the supplier side.

The IT department may shift more toward pure manager of information or connector of software services to business processes.

Do you think the same thing might be true for some of the vendors?

Yes, definitely. There are a couple of trends here. One is the supply of IT -- whether it's raw computing, data storage or applications centrally -- which will tend to expand the workforce on the supply side. On the other hand, we're seeing a fast move to more automated IT services through virtualization and other types of trends, which will tend to push down the labor requirements. So we have two opposing but very tightly related trends.

Explain the World Wide Computer and its programmability.

I argue that the World Wide Web is turning into a World Wide Computer, which means that all the pieces of a computer that we used to maintain locally -- the data processing chip, the data storage and the applications -- can now be assembled from components that lie out on the Internet, and may be supplied by many different companies. In essence, that means that the Internet, like any other computer, becomes programmable.

If you're an individual at home, you can go to Facebook and program the information flows, and you can manipulate what is in essence a software program to your own needs. You can program the Internet. I think companies now also have the capability to assemble the IT requirements for their business from all the components that lie out on the Internet or in their own data centers that are hooked up to the Internet.

One of the big challenges for companies is to figure out how to program this great new shared machine in a way that fulfills their needs efficiently and flexibly and reliably.

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