Is the IT department made obsolete by Google Apps? and Gaming-As-A-Service

By Brian Boyko
Contributor, [GAS]

Over at Network Performance Daily, we’ve been putting up a few articles dealing with ideas proposed in a controversial book by Nicholas Carr, called “The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google“.

While those articles are geared toward the IT and enterprise networking set, they’re interesting reading because some of this stuff shows where the Web is going, and the trends that affect businesses also affect consumers.

The main thesis of Carr’s work is this: Networked business applications are moving from in-house server-client systems, which require a great deal of complex hardware and network infrastructure to be successful, to a model where businesses will connect to the Internet, and outsource their applications to “Software-As-A-Service” providers – what we consumers probably refer to as “online apps” or “Web 2.0 sites” – sites like Gmail, Flickr, and Youtube, which are really sophisticated computer programs that at one point could only be delivered through desktop applications. There are a number of sites for business as well, including SalesForce.com for sales professionals – the standard success story when discussing business online apps.

These providers, according to Carr’s assertions, can provide the application more efficiently and more conveniently. With the advent of reliable and workable virtualized hardware, even items such as entire data centers can be outsourced.

Electricity, Carr argues, once had to be produced locally to power an entire factory; now it is a utility which operates off the municipal power grid. Similarly, Carr believes that computing power, once held in mainframes and now in servers, will become utilities as well, and the only thing you need is an Internet connection. This means, he claims, that IT departments as we know them will no longer exist, just like the office of “Chief Electrical Officer” disappeared around the time of municipal power plants.

For various reasons, detailed in the first blog post, I don’t think that he’s right about that prediction – still I picked up his book, read through it and do agree with him that SAAS will play an increased role in business – and consumer-level – Internet development. When Adobe develops an online version of Photoshop, you know there’s something to this thing.

This is especially mindboggling when combined with the idea that virtualization is becoming huge in enterprise networking, with chips that can handle the overhead of virtual servers, essentially, even the –hardware- is becoming software, and software can be distributed over the Web.

There was one example in the book which I go into detail over in another blog post – that of Second Life. Second life, more so than any other MMORPG, runs on a virtual machine. Unlike World of Warcraft, say, where the code for the scenery and the “game” resides on the client computer, Second Life, with its radically changing world, has almost all aspects of the game running off of their servers and downloaded to the client. Essentially, it’s “Gaming as a Service.”

Of course, anyone who has played Second Life knows how much it can lag, and there are performance tradeoffs.

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