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To adopt utility computing, start slow.
Like cautious consumers taking their first hybrid cars out of the showroom for a tentative spin up a steep hill, companies trying out the utility model tend to go easy on the juice. "We haven't jumped in all the way," says Mike Sutten, vice president of IT business solutions at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. The Miami-based cruise-ship operator is using the utility model to handle seasonal high-volume activity on its Web site. By offloading the Web site functions to Akamai Technologies Inc., including the streaming video imagery associated with the company's various cruise packages, Royal Caribbean can rest assured that its customers are able to get the information, and book the packages, they want. At the same time, the company is spared the expense of having to bulk up its IT muscle just to handle the heavy lifting of those few months each year.
Although Royal Caribbean's use of Akamai to handle its Web site functions could be viewed simply as an example of Web hosting, it does have certain utility-computing characteristics: The cruise line pays only for capacity it uses, and its Web operations are run on a network of servers shared by other firms.
The ability to tap added capacity as needed is critical for Royal Caribbean. Last year, the company sponsored several major promotions, and these were expected to double the number of hits the Web site normally received from potential cruisers. "In 2003," Sutten recalls, "we had instances when we had guys literally running down the hallways with servers to add more computing juice. Capacity estimates are not always what reality is."
In an example of IBM's computing on demand, New York and Los Angeles interactive-marketing communications firm iDeutsch (the interactive arm of advertising agency Deutsch Inc.), contracted Akamai to support a special promotion for Mitsubishi, a key client. Partner and Director Fred Rubin says that going outside for computing services was nothing new for his firm. But last January, iDeutsch had a particularly thorny computing need. The communications firm needed a Web provider with the IT power to backstop what turned out to be more than 4 million unique visitors to a promotional Web site linked to a Super Bowl commercial for Mitsubishi automobiles.
The job required fielding a total of 14,000 servers. "Absolutely, we were very nervous," Rubin says. "Come Monday morning, after the Super Bowl, we were either going to have the biggest success story, or egg on our faces." The campaign drew so much attention, and was so successful, that iDeutsch was named Mitsubishi's interactive agency of record.
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