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Lizzie J. Magie was right.


Monopoly®.  We’ve all played it.

While the debate rages on whether or not the game owes its origins to Lizzie J. Magie’s Landlord’s Game or to the Charles Darrow version sold to Parker Bros., both games were conceived with board spaces for services such as a water franchise, a light franchise, a telephone company and an electric company.

What could this factoid possibly have to do with IT services?  Each of these is a utility.

Utility computing is by no means new.  As early as 1961 MIT’s John McCarthy suggested that “… computing may someday be organized as a public utility…  The computer utility could become the basis of a new and important industry.”

Whether we call it time-sharing, cloud computing or SaaS it is important to note that computational power when delivered as a service should follow the model our utilities provide.

The utilities Lizzie and Charles chose were the telephone, electricity and water.  In today’s computing world, many attempt to make analogies between computing power and the first two of these when, in fact, they should be modeling their service after the later of these three.

We all seem to be understanding when, as an example, the power goes out during a storm.  In California, we accept the notion of the power company performing “rolling blackouts” when the demand for power exceeds the capacity of our provider.  We purchase gell-cel UPSs and DC power plants for our data centers in anticipation of brown-outs and transient power spikes yet few if anyone ever views their water supply in the same way.

When we turn the handle on the faucet we expect the water to flow.  With very few exceptions it does.  There are the occasional natural disasters which may interrupt that service but it is safe to say our water flows with far fewer outages than our electricity.

As IT service providers we should model our ability to deliver service to that of our water purveyors and not our power purveyors.

As consumers of IT services we should not accept instability in these services whether delivered as thick clients, thin clients or via a cloud.  As providers of these services we should strive for service levels made of unobtainium.  We know that 100% up-time can never be achieved but it is still something we should work towards.

A few years ago, while working in a very large IT organization, I recall walking through an area where the desktop engineers were working on a new enterprise platform.  One of the engineers had scribbled on his whiteboard three different availability targets for his images.  None of them were even close to 100% or even the ever elusive “five nines” of availability.  Each of the three levels ranged between 97% to 99.9% availability.  Did he realize that meant slightly more than a week and a half of lost productivity for each user of his product?  Did he understand what “three nines” or even “four nines” even translated to in real-time?  Even more striking is that none of these service targets were negotiated with the client community.

As IT service providers it is important to recognize not only what we can provide technically but what impact our services have to the consumers of those services.  We need to be cognizant of the impact the availability of our services has to our customer’s customer as well.

We should never strive to provide service that is merely acceptable or merely within negotiated limits.   We should not send notices to our customer’s outlining our inability to provide the service they require and direct them to prepare for outages during peek demand times.  IT services can indeed be delivered in a service model but that model should be based on the water company and not the power company.  When I turn on the tap, I expect the water to be clean and flowing whether at peak demand time or not.

Coincidentally, the utility both Lizzie’s and Charles’ game board had in common was the water franchise or water works.  Maybe they knew something we didn’t.

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~ by Marc Hedish on January 11, 2010.

One Response to “Lizzie J. Magie was right.”

  1. Hurry up and wait for your service to return, but you will pay us as if your service was never interupted…

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