TORONTO — Utility computing will only become a reality when its main proponents — IBM, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard — agree to work together and build technology on open standards. Without that foundation, it simply won’t work, Crawford Del Prete, IDC’s senior vice-president of hardware and

communications in the U.S., told a gathering of IDC customers in Toronto recently.

Utility computing has been heralded as the next technology wave because it promises to enable companies to seamlessly access and scale computing capacity on demand across geography, application and operating system.

Del Prete said utility computing will unfold in three phases. The first phase is server consolidation, which helps give companies better control over their assets. The second phase will involve automating resources to allow them to be shared and then virtualizing those resources.

“”Phase 3 will bring one homogenous environment where assets aggregate and disaggregate as necessary,”” he said.

Before this nirvana is realized, however, economic, technical and cultural challenges must be resolved. Efforts to achieve higher levels of automation will be sabotaged by IT departments, said Del Prete, if, for example, they feel the initiative threatens to eliminate human resources.

“”If the IS department pushes back against these changes for fear it will cut jobs out, it won’t work,”” he said.

In a presentation that focused on where the IT industry is heading after a prolonged period of belt-tightening, Del Prete acknowledged the industry is in a down cycle, but said there are opportunities for vendors.

“”During each transition, there’s always a great deal of pain, but there’s also an opportunity for innovation,”” he said.

Companies will also be investing in Web services, Del Prete said. He admitted there is confusion around what Web services are and how they can help companies, but explained it as simply “”automating what previously required human intervention.””

A Web service is software used by other software via Internet protocols and formats to help companies divvy up business logic into discrete modules, outlined Del Prete, allowing them to extend those modules as necessary to the logic in other systems, such as those from suppliers or customers.

He cautioned that vendors in the Web services game must concentrate on standards such as Simple Object Access Protocol and Web Services Description Language to make it work, while companies need to think about the disparate databases they have in production and what could be gained by integrating them.

The third frontier where companies will invest IT dollars is in mobile and wireless computing, Del Prete said. He pointed to the 802.11 wireless networking protocol as an example of the corporate hunger for technology that moves with people.

Despite the complexity of 802.11, Del Prete said it’s proof that people will respond to something complicated rather than nothing at all. Vendors have provided devices with all sorts of functionality, but not enough thought has been given to where people can be productive using the technology.

“”The focus on mobility today is backwards,”” he said.

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