I imagine that someday any citizen will be able to buy a small computer and connect it to the Internet just to rent CPU time to the public. It will be similar to the way power utilities allow customers to sell solar power back to the grid whenever homes produce more energy than they use.

I realize that something like this is already being done for music file sharing services. And the SETI project can access your unused CPU time to search for ET. I'm talking about an expansion of what already exists. The business model and the legal hurdles are probably bigger obstacles than the technology.

Imagine buying a computer and plugging it into your Internet connection at home. The first menu that comes up allows you to choose between private computing (just you) or public, meaning the world can use your computing power on demand. And you get a discount on your own "computing utility" bill when your CPU is used by others. Depending on pricing and demand, you might get a positive investment return on your capital expense for the computer.

In California, solar customers can reduce their energy bill by the amount of power they "sell" back to the grid. But consumers can't legally sell any excess energy they produce above their own billing level. I assume lobbyists are to blame for this ridiculous situation. For now, let's happily imagine that our hypothetical computing grid doesn't have that limitation.

Someday all of your important files will be stored in the cloud. For many of us, that's already the case. It's time to move our CPU needs to the cloud too. In the future, if you can't afford a computer, you can pay a low monthly fee to have access to spare computing power on the Internet. I'm guessing that might cost $5 per month for the basic package, with a premium subscription service that offers higher speeds. The service should be cheap because most computing power on the planet sits idle most of the day.

With this business model, everyone on earth would have access to the equivalent of a supercomputer in the cloud for a few bucks per month plus whatever they pay for basic Internet access. You'll never have to upgrade your computer, upgrade your software, install anti-virus software, or worry about any of the headaches of computer ownership.

Citizens would need little more than a smart screen with a browser that can connect to the computing grid. That's still a computer, but it can be fairly basic. It just needs a browser.

For this model to work on a large scale you'd need to have WiFi in airplanes and everywhere else citizens need to access the Internet, but we're well on the way to that world.

It's not clear to me that a large company or even a government needs to be involved in building the system I'm describing. You could probably get there with an open software project. In fact, it's probably the only way to get there because large companies have a stranglehold on the status quo.

Data privacy is a huge issue with this sort of business model, obviously. But I wonder if spreading your data and CPU usage across multiple processors and servers might actually give you better security than your current system in which all of your private stuff is conveniently organized on one computer so hackers can easily find it. Instead of having your credit card number stored in one location, the number might be broken up across several servers. If one server gets hacked, the thieves only get a partial number. And they wouldn't have any way to know which servers have the rest of your digits.

By analogy, no one would try to steal your car if they knew it was disassembled and the parts were hidden all over your home. The analogy breaks down because crooks could steal and sell car parts. But if a hacker had only two digits of your credit card number it wouldn't be worth much.

You may now commence shredding this idea.

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Mar 3, 2014
I think the primary problem with this is that there is no point to it. The average user doesn't need more computing power than the machine that connects them to the Internet would provide. In fact, the trend of computing platforms is toward LESS powerful ones, where mobility is more important than data crunching. That's why tablets and smartphones have become ubiquitous.

My wife, for example, has four computers at her beck and call: a tablet, a smartphone, a laptop, and a mini-computer in the kitchen attached to a large monitor. Her primary use case is content delivery -- streaming movies, music, web browsing -- and any of them can handle all of those functions with ease. The reason she has four is that each provides those functions in a different context. She doesn't need more computational power; she just wants to be able to use it in ways that are meaningful to her.
Mar 3, 2014
I call foul. It is a bad idea to give my data to a completely random agent over the internet and let that random agent not only have full access to my data but also crunch numbers on it.

I bet the NSA is willing to solve all our computing problems for us for free. Or for that matter there are lots of people in Eastern Europe and Russia who are more than happy to do this.

If I want computing power I'm just going to buy that and build my own system. Computing power is cheap. Why would you give someone else (whose identity you don't know) your data just because you are too cheap to buy a real computer?

[Those newfangled ATMs will steal my money! I can't use a credit card on the Internet because bad people will steal my number!

Someday it will sound silly to think storing personal information on the Internet, encrypted and spread across random servers in tiny chunks, is less safe than having it all conveniently stored on your home computer that is a hacker paradise. -- Scott]
Mar 3, 2014
[There is no company involved in this business model. And since one computer could service 100 users spread across the globe (global distribution smooths out peak use periods) the payback period at $5 per month per users is one month for a $500 computer. -- Scott]

...So if my numbers are correct then a company could do the same thing and get $500/month for a $150 investment. In which case companies would be making that investment and driving down the cost to rent to...what? I don't iknow, but I imagine it wouldn't be much compared to the cost of a $500 desktop.
Mar 3, 2014
Bitcloud sounds a bit like what you are describing here.


[I'd get rid of the sketchy Bitcoin mining aspect of their model. That's just asking for trouble. -- Scott]
Mar 3, 2014
[You may now commence shredding this idea.]


Has anyone done the numbers on this? How much did your computer cost? How much per month would it take to make you rent your computer out?

Lets say you paid $500 for your computer. Lets also say it would cost a big company $150 to get the same computing power in that $500 computer (I envision them saving money through buying computers in bulk, getting more efficient computers than you get, getting them server-style instead of in a bunch of desktops, etc.). How much do you think a company would pay to rent something they could get outright for $150?

Now modify those numbers based on what you paid for your computer.

[There is no company involved in this business model. And since one computer could service 100 users spread across the globe (global distribution smooths out peak use periods) the payback period at $5 per month per users is one month for a $500 computer. -- Scott]
Mar 3, 2014
The biggest hurdle from my perspective is technical: the latency for simple operations is still orders of magnitude to high for this to work in the way you want. There would have to be a major breakthrough in network technology.

[Every user in this model would have the equivalent of unlimited storage and supercomputer power. When you open a web page, all of the pages you might next access by clicking a link on the page could be loaded to your nearest server in anticipation. Or loaded into RAM on your device. And someday perhaps we will have pCell speeds, or South Korea-like Internet speeds. -- Scott]
Mar 3, 2014
That makes perfect sense. It's not radical at all -- analagous to putting your money in the bank instead of in your mattress. People will catch on to it.
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