On The Big Switch

I recently finished reading The Big Switch – Rewiring The World, From Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “What made large-scale electric utilities possible was a series of scientific and engineering breakthroughs – in electricity generation and transmission as well as in the design of electric motors – but what ensured their triumph was not technology but economics.”

2- “At a purely economic level, the similarities between electricity and information technology are even more striking. Both are what economists call general purpose technologies…they can both be delivered efficiently over a network.”

3- “If the electric dynamo was the machine that fashioned twentieth-century society – that made us who we are – the information dynamo is the machine that will fashion the new society of the twenty-first century.”

4- “What the fiber-optic Internet does for computing is exactly what the alternating current network did for electricity: it makes the location of the equipment unimportant to the user. But it does more than that. Because the internet has been designed to accommodate any type of computer and any form of digital information, it also plays the role of Insull’s rotary converter: it allows disparate and formerly incompatible machines to operate together as a single system. It creates harmony out of a cacophony. By providing a universal medium for data transmission and translation, the Net is spurring the creation of centralized computing plants that can serve thousands or millions of customers simultaneously. What companies used to have no choice but to supply themselves, they can now purchase as a service for a simple fee. And that means they can finally free themselves from their digital millwork.”

5- “It will take many years for the utility computing system to mature. Like Edison and Insull before them, the pioneers of the new industry will face difficult business and technical challenges. They’ll need to figure out the best ways to meter and set prices for different kinds of services. They’ll need to become more adept at balancing loads and managing diversity factors as demand grows. They’ll need to work with governments to establish effective regulatory regimes. They’ll need to achieve new levels of security, reliability, and efficiency. Most daunting of all they’ll need to convince big companies to give up control over their private systems and begin to dismantle the data centers into which they’ve plowed so much money. But these challenges will be met just as they were met before. The economics of computing have changed, and it’s the new economics that are now guiding progress. the PC age is giving way to a new era: the utility age.”

6- “Virtualization allows companies – or the utilities that serve them – to regain the high capacity utilization that characterized the mainframe age while gaining even more flexibility that they had during the PC age. It offers the best of both worlds.”

7- “Some of the old-line companies will succeed in making the switch to the new model of computing; others will fail. But all of them would be wise to study the examples of General Electric and Westinghouse. A hundred years ago, both these companies were making a lot of money selling electricity production components and systems to individual companies. That business disappeared as big utilities took over electricity supply. But GE and Westinghouse were able to reinvent themselves. They became leading suppliers of generators and other equipment to the new utilities, and they also operated or invested in utilities themselves. Most important of all, they built vast new businesses supplying electric appliances to consumers – businesses that only became possible after the arrival of large scale electric utilities.”

8- “When applications have no physical form, when they can be delivered as digital services over a network, the constraints disappear. Computing is also much more modular than electricity generation. Not only can applications be provided by different utilities, but even the basic building blocks of computing – data storage, data processing, data transmission – can be broken up into different services supplied from different locations by different companies. Modularity reduces the likelihood that the new utilities will form service monopolies, and it gives us, as the users of utility computing, a virtually unlimited array of options.”

9- “Not only will the Internet tend to divide people with different views, in other words, it will also tend to magnify the differences.”

10- “All technological change is generational change. The full power and consequence of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become adults and begin to push their outdated parents to the margins. As the older generations die, they take with them their knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains. It’s in this way that progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be.”


Omar Halabieh

The Big Switch


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