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From utility to commodity

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They were further compromised by vendor politics. Patchy and half hearted backing came from companies that wanted to ensure customers continued to use their own products rather than switch. Microsoft put a final nail in UML's coffin last year when it launched its own solution to the design and architecting of applications with Visual Studio Team System, in which UML is just one approach among many others for building applications. CORBA, meanwhile, was overtaken by Java, which became the flag to which non-Windows, COM, DCOM and .NET vendors rallied.

While Java and .NET became the building blocks for today's middleware utilities, the idea of commodity could not be realised. Vendors began adding what they called "value" on top of the basic infrastructure, with features for scalability, performance, security, integration and simplification, which they use to justify high prices.

Now, in the 2000s, the big vendors are mobilising again to contain the threat posed to their monopoly on the utility by the slide into commodity promised by SaaS and open source.

Faced with the threat of another BEA on application servers, this time from open source, IBM bought Gluecode in 2005. In late 2006, Oracle decided it would undercut Red Hat, and Microsoft has partnered with open source application and middleware providers to optimise Windows to their software at the developer and runtime level.

What we are seeing from those who built out the software computing utility is an attempt to embrace commodity using only the elements that suit them. Far from undergoing some Saul-like conversion, the clever ones are either trying to squash rivals or buy them, to contain the threat while maintaining their existing monopoly.

We've seen plenty of hype around utility computing. The utility, though, arrived years ago with middleware and applications that have become ubiquitous and invisible to the end user, like electricity or dial tone. The real story is the transition to price competition and supplier choice that accompany commodity. Like European and US telecoms and power monopolies in the 1980s and 1990s, those who laid this utility infrastructure will be the ones who resist change using elaborate tactics to maintain high prices and lock in. ®

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