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BusinessWeek novel turns Google's cloud into epic hero

Search giant invented science and the future

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As mentioned, Baker ties not only the future of computer science to Google and IBM's 1,600-node cluster but also the future of Google itself.

The cluster apparently is the best embodiment of Google's cloud computing aspirations - and, again, cloud computing is a revolutionary, new thing.

In reality, you guys know all too well that vendors of all types have been flying the cloud flag for years and years. The phrase "cloud computing" means almost nothing as a result. It's just a fancy way of saying that users pull their software and data from a, er, data center rather than their PC and enjoy a bit more flexibility as a result.

Ever increasing computer power along with improvements in storage and networking have indeed put the spotlight back on this server-based computing. Salesforce always tops the list of meaty software companies that have changed the economics of high-end application delivery by letting customers tap into a utility-type service rather than managing their own code.

It's tough to decide where the cloud ends and starts. E-mail is an old, boring cloud-like service. So is online storage.

Over the last couple of years, a variety of companies have tried to fancy up their cloud offerings. Sun rolled out a CPU and storage rental service. Amazon.com presented online storage and servers to small to mid-sized companies, and Google has its online office productivity suite.

(Oddly, Baker cites Amazon as "the first to sell cloud computing as a service," which is flat out wrong on a number of levels. You can look at e-mail and online storage rental or look at Sun's CPU renting service which went live well before Amazon's S3 service.)

You're not reading this on a computer

Baker refuses to acknowledge the realities of the marketplace and instead plugs a Yahoo! exec saying that "there are only five computers on earth" at Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon. Rather than questioning this embarrassing hyperbole, Baker promotes it as fact. There's even a sidebar to prove the idea.

The BusinessWeek story more or less copies the ideas put forth most publicly people such as author Nick Carr, Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos and, well, just about anyone thinking about these things. Unfortunately, the story, as so many current pieces do, attributes everything related to the trend toward mega data centers as being tied to Google and does so in a pandering, worshiping way.

The truth is that Google and IBM have built a cluster for academic use. They hope it will improve server software. Meanwhile, Google - and many others - have eyed the concept of opening their data centers to customers for various functions.

While Baker insists that this single cluster will change the ways scientists do their research and usher in a new age of computing, you can be sure that Google's 1,600-node machine is just one, small element of larger, ongoing trends.

All that said, we're glad to see BusinessWeek tweak its publication to include fiction now. The copy was getting a tad dry. ®

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