Amazon, Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft are key business IT providers of the future, offering companies access to millions of servers in the cloud.
Ian Osborne, a senior executive at IT suppliers association Intellect, said the companies already have large datacentres distributed across multiple continents and have developed technologies for job scheduling, data sharing and management. They have fault tolerance, scalability, and can provide a new server in moments. With hydro-electric power at its Oregan site on the Columbia river, Google datacentres have particularly efficient energy costs, he said.
Though they have yet to provide service level agreements (SLAs) for all their business IT services, SLAs will be introduced. "There are no real SLAs available in this environment yet, [but] a plethora of service providers will offer guaranteed levels of service," he said.
Addressing the Numara software "Engage Public Sector Forum" in central London, Osborne said Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo have enough processing power between them to cope with business IT use as it stands. "If they are running more efficiently than your business, there is a big economic cost to not using services like that," he said.
"Were Google to locate itself in Scotland or a valley in Wales, that would be a powerful attraction to using services like this," he said.
Changing the face of IT
"There is no question that the Amazons, eBays and Googles of this world are changing the way we do computing," he told the IT audience.
In typical businesses, the average utilisation of equipment in the datacentre is between 10% and 15%. Last year, when energy costs came close to dwarfing equipment costs, it became "more of a problem to buy electricity than equipment" for some datacentres.
Cloud suppliers can provide a new server in moments, whereas it could take an IT department up to 18 months to acquire a new server, find the space for it, source the software and power it, he said. Another major advantage of cloud computing is that there are no software upgrades to worry about.
Osborne said that Google and its competitors could run e-mail services and non-core IT including batch jobs, and provide storage such as Amazon's S3 Simple Storage and quad-core technology.
He quoted Shane Robison, executive vice-president and chief strategy and technology officer at HP, as saying, "We are moving to a future state where everything will be delivered to you as a service."
Bill Gates has previously said that Microsoft had hundreds of thousands of servers, but would have "many millions" of servers in future, Osborne told the audience.
Challenges of managing the cloud
There are disadvantages to cloud computing. "You will have a horrendous task trying to manage where data is being kept You will have to cope with dynamic reconfiguration of the infrastructure to cope with cloud," Osborne said.
When something goes wrong the IT department will need to send a log to Google or another provider and hope that it will be able to establish the cause.
And he warned that IT departments might be the last to know when software-as-a-service has been sold to a business. Systems will be sold to the business unit which has the budget to pay for it.
"You are moving from having control to not having control," he said.
Ian Osborne used to work for HP. His work for Intellect on grid computing is sponsored by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.