Before closing this chapter, it is worthwhile to preview what is possible in the future beyond achieving strategic flexibility. Looking forward, utility, grid, and policy-based computing can deliver even greater business advantage over and above strategic flexibility. The N1 Grid vision involves redefining the nature of the data center. This section contains a sampling of the discussions about utility, grid, and policy-based computing in Chapter 11.
Utility computing (UC) is difficult to define because it seems to mean something different to every system vendor. UC can be narrowly defined as simply aligning pricing models to data center resources (that is, pay-as-you-go models). The hardware pay-as-you-go model is usually a first step. However, UC is really about aligning all IT costs with the business, including transactions, service levels, and most importantly, user costs. UC has a role in the ability of the business to create a model that supports strategic flexibility. This enables the business to move towards a service-based utility.
A grid is a collection of computers that are available to perform various tasks as part of an autonomous system. The grid has a workload management system and specially written applications that enable it to parse out tasks and gather the results. This distributed system enables careful control over the quality of service, enabling grids to perform critical functions. Grids can span hundreds or thousands of nodes, and they require little ongoing care. A node can leave the system and re-enter it with little effect. The central workload management system simply stops forwarding tasks to nodes that have left the system.
The N1 Grid vision provides resources for services in a more efficient and flexible manner. In many ways, the grid technologies that have been used over the last decade are aligned with the N1 Grid vision for the data center. Grid-based computing has been around for a number of years, and because it can perform some impressive tasks, it has grown quite popular. In fact, it is measurably more successful than utility computing in the number of implementations. The N1 Grid software can be used for grid computing, just as it can be used for other business services, such as web services and data warehouses.
The world of computing is about to change. As more and more devices become connected, the way the systems need to be managed will also change. Much of the focus in device technology over the next decade will focus on increasing the intelligence of the system, whether the system is a cell phone, a Bluetooth connection to a laptop or car, or a new system like the data center based on the N1 Grid software.
Today's N1 Grid software products concentrate on automating many of the manual tasks performed by administrators and providing virtualization and automated provisioning of resources. Most of these tasks are initiated by a human, based on some specific set of policies. Today, policies can be written down, in configuration files, or perhaps in a person's head. System vendors, including Sun, are rapidly moving toward enabling these policies to be specified in business terms so that the holistic system can manage itself to these policies.