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Polymorphic computing still tweaks billing

Editor's note: more than five years ago, Hewlett-Packard was promoting an old concept with a new speech. HP's current Labs director Martin Fink spoke about polymorphic computing, and MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster was on hand to note what was nascent about the concept, as well as what still needed to be developed. Cloud computing has gone beyond nascent to become commonplace, but billing for individual apps -- not just CPU and bandwidth -- is still a work in progress. The apps on MPE systems are specialized parts of computing, but not easily available through most common clouds (like Amazon Web Services, or Google). 

Until billing for MPE apps via the cloud is worked out, companies will be migrating apps to capture the potential of polymorphic computing. Foster's article still offers a lot to think about while considering the true benefits of a transition for MPE apps.

Polymorphics Film 1959There's a marvelous stop-action film online that explains polymorphic computing. The film was made in 1959. The earliest design of MPE was still a decade away. Most people believe polymorphic computing didn't emerge until almost 50 years after the film was made. Enjoy it, as well as Foster's report below. The pieces are still in motion, and like transitions, they're not stopping.

By Birket Foster 

The CommunityConnect 2008 conference in Europe featured Martin Fink, the Senior VP and GM for the HP Business Critical Server group. Fink gave a talk on Polymorphic Computing. What is that, you say? Well, Fink used an analogy from the car industry, one where you have different cars with steering wheels, engine, chassis and tires that can be changed on demand. Think of the object-oriented programming concept of late binding, he suggested.

Here's how it sounded to me, a software vendor sitting in an audience full of software vendors. Your polymorphic car would assemble itself in your garage for the purpose you need -- so you could have a sports car one evening for what Fink called “a hot date with the wife,” then the next day you could order up a minivan to go shopping, and in the afternoon the polymorphic assembly garage would deliver a pickup truck so you could pick up some lumber for a do it yourself project.

The current world of virtualization will allow computing resources to be configured for different tasks. The workload will be profiled so that the CPU, memory, disc space, and network IO matches the requirement. Once you get to that stage, you could be buying your computing in a metered environment. Utility computing will finally become a reality just in time for a change of name -- the current moniker is “Cloud Computing,” where your computing services get provided by a large company like HP, or Amazon or Google. In the cloud, the applications as well as the whole environment are built around the concept of a flexible billing system.

The issue is the billing system. There is no current standard for allowing a hosting company (ISP or RBOC or a Google) to charge for the individual utilities that complete the application environments. Not everything that will be required as a “completer app” will be done in “free” open source - there is still going to be a need for mashups and a way to pay the creators of the intellectual property.   

If HP could figure out how to do the billing system for micro-cents, and offer that back to the software vendor community, they could get the brightest and the best to flock to helping HP take a lead in the innovation of cloud computing. HP will get a piece of the action as they bill customers on behalf of the developers, the developers get a check -- while the customer only has to deal with its cloud computing provider or application services provider who uses cloud computing. The strategy helps avoid licensing agreements and purchasing from lots of little vendors.

By the way, most of the really good innovation in software comes from small, high-performance teams. HP discovered this when the SAP/Oracle port to Itanium was completed. The top customers used about 150 applications to complete the environment -- things like development and test solutions, along with deployment, operations and support software: things like spoolers, schedulers etc. Cloud computing needs a high-performing team at HP to step up and help produce a standard billing mechanism, one that will be the differentiator for the ISVs choosing to partner with HP. Then polymorphic computing will be headed your way.