Peak server, the cloud & NetApp storage for AWS

I was at a conference a month or so ago and one speaker mentioned that the number of x86 servers being sold has peaked and is dropping. I can imagine a number of reasons for this and the main one being server virtualization. But this speaker had a different view and it seemed to be the cloud.

Peak server is here.

He said that three companies were purchasing over 1/2 the x86 servers these days. I feel that there should be at least four Google, Facebook, Amazon & Microsoft and maybe five, if you add in Apple.

Something has happened over the past year or so. Enterprise IT has continued along its merry way but the adoption of cloud services is starting to take off.

I have seen this before, with mainframes, then mini-computers, and now client-server. Minicomputers came out and were so easy to use and develop/deploy applications on, that people stopped creating new apps on the mainframe. Mainframes never died out, and probably have never really stopped shipping increasing MIPS every year. But the share of WW MIP installations for mainframes has been shrinking for decades and have never got going again.

Ultimately, the proprietary minicomputer was just a passing fad and only lasted about 25 years or so. It was wounded by the PC, and then killed off by proprietary Unix workstations.

Then it happened again, the new upstart this time was Windows Server and Linux. Once again it was just easier to build apps on these new and cheaper servers, than any of the older Unix servers. Of course there’s still plenty of business in proprietary Unix servers, but again I would venture to say that their share of WW installed MIPS has been shrinking for a long time.

Nowadays, the cloud is mortally wounding the server market. Server virtualization is helping a lot but it’s also enabling the cloud to eliminate many physical server sales. This is because new applications, new IT environments are being ported/moved/deployed onto the cloud.

Peak server means less enterprise networking, storage and server hardware

In this new, cloud world, customers need less servers, less networking and less enterprise class storage. Yes not every application is suitable to cloud deployment but that’s why there’s still mainframes, still Unix servers, and a continuing need for standalone, physical or virtual x86 servers in the enterprise. But their share of MIPs will start shrinking soon if it hasn’t already.

Ok, so enterprise data center share of MIPs will start shrinking vis a vis cloud data centers. But what happens to networking and storage. My view is that networking becomes software defined and there’s a component of that which operates on special purpose hardware. This will increase in shipments but the more complex, enterprise class networking equipment will flatline and never see any more substantial growth.

And up until yesterday I felt much the same about enterprise class storage. Software defined storage in my future, DAS and SSDs for the capacity and the smarts exist in software if at all. Today, most of the cloud and many service providers have been moving off enterprise class storage and onto DAS.

NetApp’s new enterprise storage in AWS

But yesterday I heard about NetApp private storage for the cloud. This is a configuration of NetApp storage installed in a CoLo facility with a “direct connection” to Amazon compute cloud. In this way, enterprise customers can maintain data stewardship/ownership/governance over their data while at the same time deploying applications onto AWS compute cloud.

This seems to be one of the sticking points to enterprise customers adopting the cloud. By having (data) storage owned lock/stock&barrel by the enterprise it seems much easier and less risky to deploy new and old applications to the cloud.

Whether this pans out and can provide enough value to cover the added expense of the enterprise class storage, only the market can decide. But this is the first time I can remember, where any vendor has articulated a role for enterprise class storage in the cloud. Let’s hope it works.

Image: PDP8/s by ajmexico

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