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…
I met recently with Cisco’s UCS group in San Jose to get a quick update on sales and maybe some hints about future development. The overall picture is one of rapid growth decoupled from whatever pressures Cisco management has cautioned about in other areas of the business.
Overall, according to recent disclosure by Cisco CEO John Chambers, Cisco’s UCS revenue is growing at a 550% Y/Y growth rate, with the most recent quarterly revenues indicating a $500M run rate (we make that out as about $125M quarterly revenue). This figure does not seem to include the over 4,000 blades used by Cisco IT, nor does it include units being consumed internally by Cisco and subsequently shipped to customers as part of appliances or other Cisco products. Also of note is the fact that it is fiscal Q1 for Cisco, traditionally its weakest quarter, although with an annual growth rate in excess of 500% we would expect that UCS sequential quarters will be marching to a totally different drummer than the overall company numbers.
My research team at Forrester helps tech vendor strategists anticipate and navigate in rapidly changing market environments. We can't take a siloed view on specific product and service categories, but rather broaden our perspective in order to trace cross-market dynamics around key issues such as sustainability, globalization, collaboration, mobility, and cloud. This puts tech vendors in better positions to act on emerging demand signals, competitive scenarios, and opportunities to select best-fit partner, channel, or acquisition targets.
The market for dedicated solutions and services that help companies manage their energy, emissions, and overall sustainability strategy is still nascent. The evolution of sustainability at larger software and IT service vendors started with their internal efforts, which is an important factor framing their portfolio and go-to-market strategies.
As a result, there are still a significant number of vendors that are converting their internal capabilities to analyze, define, and implement sustainability into customer-facing software and/or service portfolios. These portfolios of services go well beyond green IT, increasingly focused to serve clients wrestling with hot topics such as enterprise carbon and energy management (ECEM), green supply chain, and sustainability performance management.
My colleague, Daniel Krauss, and I have recently completed a comprehensive round of interviews and analysis with many different players offering sustainability consulting services, including software, IT and business services, hardware, and even industrial companies (see Figure 1).
In the late 1940s, William Levitt came up with the idea of pre-fabricated homes that could be mass-produced and shipped to suburbs across the US providing cheap and efficient housing. Towns built using these pre-fabricated houses were dubbed Levittowns, and are now known for their drab monotony. In my opinion, pre-fabricated homes were a flop, but the idea of pre-fabricated “Levittown-esque” data centers is brilliant!
And I’m not alone--HP and Colt are just two of the latest providers to jump on the pre-fabricated data center bandwagon this month. Other vendors such as Digital Realty Trust, APC, and IBM have also been offering similar solutions for a while now, but the solutions appear to be a bit more custom-made than the recent announcements by HP and Colt.
The pre-fabricated data center modules are built out in around 750-800kw units and are fitted together like Legos (HP’s even looks like Legos!). Many modular data centers can be linked together (and Colt’s can also stack vertically) to build out a much larger space.
Why should you care about these pre-fabricated data center offerings? Well, they make the whole process of building your own data center much cheaper and faster. Some of the benefits I can see include: