The Dream of (Canadian) Centralization

A Gartner analyst thinks Canada’s natural resources and cooler temperature can help it take advantage of the growing cloud computing trend to provide services and Web applications.

The country has an estimated server installed base of more than one million units, and in the next five years, the market will demonstrate incremental growth typical of a mature market, said Jeffrey Hewitt, vice-president of research with Stamford, Conneticut-based Gartner Inc.

“But is there a way in Canada for that to be boosted beyond that standard incremental projection?” asked Hewitt.

He thinks the country’s years of investment in hydro electric power facilities and ambient temperatures will enable data centres to be powered and subsequently cooled. And, he said, the concerns around power and cooling are only getting bigger as Web content grows with video sharing sites like YouTube. Therefore, the country can take its hydro electric infrastructure to “another level” and extend it to the Web, said Hewitt.

Canada primed for cloud computing: Gartner | The Industry Standard, Kathleen Lau, ComputerWorld Canada.

I used to work at a school that dreamed the dream of centralization and not surprisingly, it was a disaster. This dream is a variant of the automated factory dream; the idea that one day we can get rid of all of those pesky, complaining, expensive workers.

I’m no Luddite. This dream has to do with the idea of a pure profit, divorced from human labor, not with technology. Technology is simply the dominant strategy of the dream in our time. In universities, the dream is as strong as anywhere else, maybe stronger.

Imagine a school without teachers and their pesky unions! Actually, though, the dream as I experienced it had to do with the expense of support people. We had a nightmare of a classroom computer system that needed to be updated. That was clear.

It was also clear that the reason the system was a nightmare was that there was not enough support personnel. Somehow, someone heard about “thin clients”– computers that were, in effect, nothing but a monitor and a box with some flash memory. The software lives on a central server.

It sounds so great. Obviously, the real problem isn’t a lack of support personnel, it’s those wacky students and teachers who keep messing up the system. The “thin clients” made sure that no one could change anything important. It made support almost unnecessary!

The dream was, of course, utterly wrong. In fact the new system was even more of a nightmare than the old, outdated computers. If one thing went wrong somewhere on the network, none of the computers would work. Another dream come true.

The idea of putting the servers in cold places is a good one, but I think it’s also important to think very carefully about cloud computing as the latest instance of the dream of centralization. It’s fine to put all our You-Tube videos in the same place. I’m not sure the same holds true for much else.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn’t want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so.

I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com.

I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that ‘at’ symbol] writinginthewild.com

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