A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Monday, October 03, 2005

Vapour-free on demand computing?

A visit to Savvis in the UK last week gave me an insight into real (as opposed to vapour-ware) on-demand computing. Savvis are known as comms company but also host applications. Over time they have added to the facilities that they originally owned from running Bridge’s systems through their acquisition of Digital Island’s and Intel’s hosting facilities as well as those owned by Cable & Wireless in the US.

IBM have been banging on about on demand computing for years. Their vision (a laudable one) is that you pay for what you use. So, for example, if your database gets hammered during the London day, but is unused otherwise, you would pay only for that eight hours. The flip side to this is that when more processing power or storage space is needed it is instantly available and is billed for on a usage basis. Sounds good? The only problem is implementing it. Aside from anything else, the billing would probably be more tricky than for mobile networks.

Savvis have adopted a more pragmatic approach. They implement egenera blade servers (which can be provisioned in minutes) along with 3par storage and Inkra Networks’ virtual service switch. Instead of using the one big box model (and then partitioning) that IBM seem to favour, Savvis will deploy blades as needed. Inkra’s switches allow firewall, load balancing and VPN facilities to be deployed dynamically on a single platform. Whilst not as granular as IBM’s model (in reality Savvis will probably only ramp up or down for a month at a time, mainly to simplify billing), Savvis certainly have something that works and for which there is a very real need.

Take, for example, our ongoing upgrade of PeopleSoft Financials. The physical upgrade, including migration of all data takes five days of non-stop processing. We could decrease this time by using more powerful hardware, but the cost would not be justified on the basis that the day-to-day use of PeopleSoft does not need such processing power. Unfortunately for us, Saviss’s solution came to market too late for us to sensibly take advantage of it, but next time round it’ll certainly be an option.
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