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I'm dreaming of a utility data centre

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Only time will tell just how much of business IT’s future they will come to represent, but Utility Data Centres (UDC) are bound to play a significant part in most companies’ IT infrastructure plans over the coming years.

The "Utility" part of what is otherwise a less-than snappy hook on which to hang a future is meant to convey the idea of information processing being available in a way analogous to the utility services of gas, electricity and water provision: turn on the tap and there it is (well, there it usually is). It is arguably the "great dream" that the major IT vendors – IBM, HP and Sun primarily – are trying entice users towards, though to be fair those companies are still largely groping their way to what they hope will be a future business.

Utility, ITility

The UDC idea brings together many of the trends now prevalent in IT – increasing use of standards in applications development, the growth of the standard platform, the move towards Blade servers and the growing use of virtualisation technologies – to postulate a platform which is ideally suited to that other great dream, the shift to a pay-per-use, service-based infrastructure built on the concept of the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA).

Just how deeply the UDC trend will embed itself in the hearts and minds of users is hard to tell, for there is still considerable debate about whether it is better to centralise IT resources as much as possible, or distribute them widely. For most businesses, the answer will be the classic compromise of "a bit of both", with widespread use of small, powerful personal clients - PDAs-on-steroids – but with as much of the back-end infrastructure, held under as close control as possible, in a datacentre. If nothing else, the growing demands of compliance and governance are likely to push many users towards IT centralisation whether they like it or not.

So the UDC idea will probably start life by finding its way into many larger enterprises, particularly as businesses develop processes built as services rather than based on specific applications. It will be an intra-company function, using racks of Blade servers running in a virtualised environment to provide internal users with a resource pool of the hardware, operating systems, applications and tools needed to build and initiate a service, run it, and tear it down cleanly when the task is complete.

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