Pop Quiz: What’s the fastest way to build a credible, enterprise-relevant and highly profitable cloud computing services practice? Buy one that already is. That’s exactly what Verizon did last week when it pushed $1.4B across the table to Terremark. Despite its internal efforts to build an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) business over the last two years, Verizon simply couldn’t learn the best practices fast enough to have matched the gains in the market it received through this move. Terremark has one of the strongest IaaS hosting businesses in the market and perhaps the best enterprise mix in its customer base of the top tier providers. It also has a significant presence with government clients including the United States’ Government Services Agency (GSA) which has production systems running in a hybrid mode between Terremark’s IaaS and traditional managed hosting services.
Confidential Forrester client inquiries have shown struggles by Verizon to win competitive IaaS bids with its computing-as-a-service (CaaS) offering, often losing to Terremark. This led to Verizon reselling the Terremark solution (its CaaS for SMB) so they could try before the buy.
Last week IBM and ARM Holdings Plc quietly announced a continuation of their collaboration on advanced process technology, this time with a stated goal of developing ARM IP optimized for IBM physical processes down to a future 14 nm size. The two companies have been collaborating on semiconductors and SOC design since 2007, and this extension has several important ramifications for both companies and their competitors.
It is a clear indication that IBM retains a major interest in low-power and mobile computing, despite its previous divestment of its desktop and laptop computers to Lenovo, and that it will be in a position to harvest this technology, particularly ARM's modular approach to composing SOC systems, for future productization.
For ARM, the implications are clear. Its latest announced product, the Cortex A15, which will probably appear in system-level products in approximately 2013, will be initially produced in 32 nm with a roadmap to 20nm. The existence of a roadmap to a potential 14 nm product serves notice that the new ARM architecture will have a process roadmap that will keep it on Intel’s heels for another decade. ARM has parallel alliances with TSMC and Samsung as well, and there is no reason to think that these will not be extended, but the IBM alliance is an additional insurance policy. As well as a source of semiconductor technology, IBM has a deep well of systems and CPU IP that certainly cannot hurt ARM.
Forrester’s survey and inquiry research shows that, when it comes to cloud computing choices, our enterprise customers are more interested in infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) than platform-as-a-service (PaaS) despite the fact that PaaS is simpler to use. Well, this line is beginning to blur thanks to new offerings from Amazon Web Services LLC and upstart Standing Cloud.
The concern about PaaS lies around lock-in, as developers and infrastructure and operations professionals fear that by writing to the PaaS layer’s services their application will lose portability (this concern has long been a middleware concern — PaaS or otherwise). As a result, IaaS platforms that let you control the deployment model down to middleware, OS and VM resource choice are more open and portable. The tradeoff though, is that developer autonomy comes with a degree of complexity. As the below figure shows, there is a direct correlation between the degree of abstraction a cloud service provides and the skill set required by the customer. If your development skills are limited to scripting, web page design and form creation, most SaaS platforms provide the right abstraction for you to be productive. If you are a true coder with skills around Java, C# or other languages, PaaS offerings let you build more complex applications and integrations without you having to manage middleware, OS or infrastructure configuration. The PaaS services take care of this. IaaS, however, requires you to know this stuff. As a result, cloud services have an inverse pyramid of potential customers. Despite the fact that IaaS is more appealing to enterprise customers, it is the hardest to use.
I just spent the better part of December on the road visiting infrastructure & operations (I&O) executives at our clients. Meeting clients is always interesting, but this year was particularly interesting. Why? Because most of the executives I met were a bit panicked. That’s not to say they aren’t good at their jobs, or that they don’t understand how to overcome the day-to-day challenges they face. No, this was something different. Something unprecedented is unfolding — and it’s unfolding with frightening speed. Put simply, these I&O execs all echoed one thing: they’re ill equipped to support empowered employees.
From nothing more than an outlandish speculation, the prospects for a new entrant into the volume Linux and Windows server space have suddenly become much more concrete, culminating in an immense buzz at CES as numerous players, including NVIDIA and Microsoft, stoked the fires with innuendo, announcements, and demos.
Consumers of x86 servers are always on the lookout for faster, cheaper, and more power-efficient servers. In the event that they can’t get all three, the combination of cheaper and more energy-efficient seems to be attractive to a large enough chunk of the market to have motivated Intel, AMD, and all their system partners to develop low-power chips and servers designed for high density compute and web/cloud environments. Up until now the debate was Intel versus AMD, and low power meant a CPU with four cores and a power dissipation of 35 – 65 Watts.
The Promised Land
The performance trajectory of processors that were formerly purely mobile device processors, notably the ARM Cortex, has suddenly introduced a new potential option into the collective industry mindset. But is this even a reasonable proposition, and if so, what does it take for it to become a reality?
Our first item of business is to figure out whether or not it even makes sense to think about these CPUs as server processors. My quick take is yes, with some caveats. The latest ARM offering is the Cortex A9, with vendors offering dual core products at up to 1.2 GHz currently (the architecture claims scalability to four cores and 2 GHz). It draws approximately 2W, much less than any single core x86 CPU, and a multi-core version should be able to execute any reasonable web workload. Coupled with the promise of embedded GPUs, the notion of a server that consumes much less power than even the lowest power x86 begins to look attractive. But…