technology as infrastructure, act one

This post is inspired by three converging observations:

1. Matt posted a comment to a previous post: that read:

"Cloud" computing. Seriously. Do we really want to give up that much control over our computing? In the dystopian future celebrated by many tech bloggers, computers will be locked down appliances, and we will rely on big companies to deliver services to us.

2. A number of podcasts that I listened to while I drove to New Jersey produced/hosted/etc. by Michael Cote for RedMonk that discussed current events and trends in "Enterprise-grade Information Technology," which is a world, that I'm only beginning to scratch the surface of.

3. Because my Internet connection at home is somewhat spotty, and because it makes sense have an always on (and mobile) connection to IRC for work, I've started running my chat clients (mcabber and irssi) inside of a gnu screen session on my server.

My specific responses:

1. Matt's right, from a certain perspective. There's a lot of buzz-word-heavy, venture capital driven, consumer targeted "cloud computing tools" which seem to be all about getting people to use web-based "applications," and give up autonomy in exchange for data that may be more available to us because it's stored on someones network.

Really, however, I think this isn't so much a problem with "networked computing," as it is with both existing business models for information technology, and an example of the worst kind of cloud computing. And I'm using Matt's statement as a bit of a straw man, as a lot of the things that I'm including under the general heading of "cloud computing," aren't really what Matt's talking about above.

At the same time I think there is the cloud that Matt refers to: the Google/Microsoft/Startup/Ubuntu One/etc. cloud, and then there's all the rest of distributed/networked/infrastructural computing which isn't new or sexy, but I think is really the same as the rest of the cloud.

2. The "enterprise" world thinks about computers in a much different way than I ever do. Sometimes this is frustrating: the tendrils of proprietary software are strongest here, and enterprise folks care way too much about Java. In other aspects it's really fascinating, because technology becomes an infrastructural resource, rather than a concrete tool which accomplishes a specific task.

Enterprise hardware and software exists to provide large corporate institutions the tools to manage large amounts of data/projects/data/communications/etc.

This is, I think on some level, the real cloud. This "technology-as-infrastructure" thing.

3. In an elaboration of the above, I outsourced a chunk of my computing to "the cloud." I could run those applications locally, and I haven't given up that possibility, but one needs a network connection to use a chat client, so the realm of possibilities where I would want to connect to a chat server, but wouldn't be able to connect to my server, is next to impossible (particularly because some of the chat servers run on my hardware.).

I guess the point I'm driving at is: maybe this "cloud thing" isn't about functionality, or websites, or software, or business models, but rather about the evolution of our computing needs from providing a set of tools and localized resources to providing infrastructure.

And that the shift isn't so much about the technology: in point of fact running a terminal application in a screen session over SSH isn't a cutting edge technology by any means, but rather about how we use the technology to support what it is we do.

Or am I totally off my rocker here?

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