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All hail our cloud computing overlords

Pray that the IT priests beat the beancounters

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Comment We all know what's going to be so frabjous about cloud computing: it's going to make the damn stuff work. Yes, yes, we have computing systems that work now, but they need that priestly caste made up of Reg readers sitting in front of them, in charge.

Think of it this way: a coach and horses and a car both manage to get you somewhere. But in the one you need a skilled coachman to guide you, while in the other you can give any old idiot a key (and judging by the roads today, we do give any old idiot...) and they can manage it themselves.

What cloud computing should mean is that the user will, just as with the modern car, not need to know anything at all about what is under the bonnet. Pedals and steering wheel, keyboard and mouse, that's all the user will need to know about.

Do note that this doesn't mean then end of the priestly caste: there are far more mechanics and autotuners around now than there ever were coachmen – and they're better paid too. It is just that the invocations and spells will be woven in private, not out in front where they frighten the horses.

But is it really all going to be that lovely and wonderful? That rather depends on a few little arcane bits that come with the economists' secret decoder ring. For there are two possible concerns: monopoly and whether, in the absence of such, competition actually does lead to better outcomes.

It can at times seem almost blasphemous to ask the latter question. But of course competition leads to better outcomes! Well, yes, except in those times and places which it doesn't. Competing armies are what gave us the Wars of the Roses and that wasn't generally thought to be all that enjoyable or improving.

More recently there's been some intriguing research into competition in healthcare. The last set of changes in the NHS gave us a natural experiment we could explore. And what was found was that competition in healthcare on the basis of price did not lead to better outcomes. It led to cheaper prices, yes, but to a deterioration in the standard of the healthcare itself.

However, when the competition, the market, was rigged, so that it was a fixed price market and the competition had to be based on the quality of the healthcare, then the quality of the healthcare did indeed rise. But we've not quite come to a final conclusion on exactly why this should be true for some items and not for others; competition on price seems to work just fine in many areas of the economy but obviously not in all of them.

My vaguely informed guess is that this problem arises when the user of the good or service is not the one who is making the decision on the quality/price trade-off. If we were trading off the 1 per cent or 0.5 per cent risk of death during a hip transplant (not far off likely numbers) against the £5,000 or £7,000 bill (similarly) then we, looking into our own wallets and summing up our own reactions to risk, could make our choice. But when it is some bureaucrat deciding for you, then that trade-off could well be miscalculated.

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