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December 07, 2006

The world needs only 5 computers

I just read this blog from a senior at Sun and I think he's dead on.


Basically, computing is going to become a service for most people running on a virtual farm owned by a corporation. They will backup your data and make applications you bought available on that computer. Broadband networks will allow you to 'see' those applications from your home or any device attached to the internet.

Don't agree? Lets take most people with home computers. Do they back them up regularly? How many of them have problems with software crashing or the machine failing to the point the geek squad arrives. What a complete and utter pain in the you know where. I can't be bothered myself anymore. If I never reinstall a windows PC again then it'll be too soon.

Plus, the whole upgrade debacle. Upgrade for what? Wouldn't it be easier for your computer service provider to do that for you? Absolutely.

This is the way it's going? The 100 dollar computer will become a fossil once this arrives and broadband is available world wide wirelessly. Every computer will be a 100 bucks, it's called a terminal with wireless broad band.

Gamers etc may still insist on having mega powerful machines but then look at online games? It's the same thing right? Imagine that with consoles, but hang on, we're doing that already. A console thats a standard platform as a front end to a service computer that you pay an subscription fee to.

Companies are doing the same thing now with outsourcing using web mashups and online software like quickbooks and sales force.com etc.

I was looking for a home storage server for backing up digital media. It'd be expensive though and my wife would hate it. I found a service called carbonite.com last month and it's awesome. 50 bucks a year and they backup my computer to their storage service on the net. It took 2 weeks to backup my 30gb of digital media but once thats done, it just backs everything up. Then my machine crashed and I was able to restore it all on to a spare computer in 4 days. Absolutely awesome. Why would I buy a storage server now? No way, jose.

So, the guy is right, this is the way it's going to go. And consumers not corporations will be the main market. Mom and dad as well as they well educated sons and daughters will flock to this service as soon as they know about it. I know I am and will.

December 7, 2006 | Permalink


It's obvious that the person who commented above has a really deep lust for his hardware... I personally would like to use a terminal style pc possibly supplied by my broadband provider with their seeming limitless resources to pay for regular upgrades. The mundane end user already relies on 3rd party web/blog/ftp hosting, email services, image hosting, etc. It seems only logical to ax ones noisy desktop for a "hosted" pc.

Posted by: Bill | Dec 8, 2006 4:40:28 AM

I've had the same computer for over 3 years... I built it, maintained it, and have since upgraded it myself; so I can safely say that if "the above poster" actually knew what the hell he was doing he wouldn't have any need to buy a new computer every year... unless he really likes wasting his hard earned cash on a yearly basis. It's cool that you give away your assets, I'm sure your friends really like you... but come on now, starting fresh? That's the dumbest thing that I've ever heard!

Posted by: Bill | Dec 8, 2006 5:18:36 AM

Bang on target!

Posted by: Malik | Dec 8, 2006 7:22:53 AM

Hang on, what if i want a different OS? What if my internet goes down? What about my sensitive corporate database stored on my offline home computer? What about every other damn thing I use my computer for? Its all well and good having online backup, even having a mirrored drive you *can* (if you should like) access everywhere, but no more. I like my duel boot FreeBSD machine, I like my games, which arent incidently all online, it takes a hell of a lot of GPU power to run them and I wouldnt like to transmit that over broadband. What about when my laptop doesnt have a net connection? I would not like to pay a subscription to merely use my computer, even if it is a hardware companies wet dream. I like to have control, I like to own my data and my machine. I can see perhaps mom and pops going for this sort of thing, but I sincerely hope it wont ever catch on.

Posted by: Misio | Dec 8, 2006 9:06:42 AM

This would only be an option... it's not like using your standard PC would somehow become illegal.

Posted by: Bill | Dec 8, 2006 9:28:51 AM


I work in the Visual Effects/Film industry and... Not to be rude, but... I sure hope not. The availability of fast, cheap and good enough general purpose hardware has ignited my industry. Conversion to cheap, special purpose platforms for general use would return us to an SGI-era balkanization, similar to what happened when computers no longer came with a built in BASIC.

However, adoption rates for Sun Network computers (not to mention other shared resources like public transportation) give me reason to be hopeful.

I don't want someone else's computer. I want *my* computer.

Posted by: oofoe | Dec 8, 2006 12:52:49 PM

It is your computer, you're just renting the resources from a vendor. Personally, I have all the toys I could want in the labs at work, at home, I just want an easy life, I don't want to muck around with a PC or worry about backups etc. I don't worry about that at the office (corporate lan backup) so why should I need to at home either?

Posted by: Billy | Dec 8, 2006 12:57:28 PM

5 computers = 5 points of failure. Even if they are a massively scalable googleplex "computers", they will be homogenized to ease manageability and lower cost, and thereby be more vulnerable to attack.

For hackers, escalating privileges on such a cluster would be much more attractive than controlling botnets of PCs with DSL connections. Own the cluster, own the world!

And the comment "it's not like using your standard PC would somehow become illegal" sounds like an omnious warning to me... This ubiquitous cluster would be much easier for large corporations to control and for government (via lobbyists) to legislate. And those pesky tinkerers called developers, we can finally force them to purchase the privilege to develop code, and prevent them from doing anything we don't like with media.

A heterogenous, decentralized computing environment has more freedom for the users and for innovators, and more overall security. I think it is worth developing a solution that embraces this model, rather than replaces it.

Posted by: casey | Dec 8, 2006 4:11:57 PM

The development of every utility requires not just the aggregation of production of commodity to achieve economies of scale, but it also requires an economic infrastructure to separate the concerns of the consumer and operator.

Take electrical utilities as an example. Yes, coal fired power plants generate electricity cheaper than the little kerosene generators that textile mills operated in the 1800's. But the separation of concerns is a big deal - now the textile mill operator no longer has to be concerned with the cost of kerosene, etc. - he just gets a bill that says how many kWh he consumes and how much it costs. The utility operator is concerned with managing his capacities and efficiencies of his plants, as well as who's consuming what. The economic infrastructure - the unit of measure and the metering/guaging system - makes that separation of concerns possible.

For IT utilities to work as a business, the same economic infrastructure is required. Check out: http://www.provment.com/it-as-a-service.html - it's one potential solution to this problem.

Posted by: Bob | Dec 8, 2006 5:51:46 PM

It makes a lot of sense to turn the headaches of patching, upgrading etc. into Someone Elses Problem.

I did something very similar last year:


and it's worked really well.

You do need to look carefully and the Ts and Cs of any such service though - $50/year is probably not getting you much of a SLA.

I'd advise a weekly rsync of the remote disk to a cheap usb2 caddy.

Posted by: Dick Davies | Dec 13, 2006 9:24:50 AM

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