Custom stripped-down servers like the ones Facebook has designed are apparently taking away sales from established vendors such as Dell, HP and IBM, but it's far too early to know whether there will be a hit.
Bloomberg reports that do-it-yourself servers used by the likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft in data centers threaten Dell, HP and IBM. When I saw the headline, I got excited. Why? I thought there would be some quantification in it. Aside from the fact that 20 percent of the server market is customized, it's unclear how many orders Dell, HP and IBM were really losing. There aren't any concrete examples or figures to back up the premise.
Here's the rub: These Facebook DIY servers have very specific uses. Most of the stripped down servers are used in cloud-heavy environments. For Facebook and Google, the data center is the largest capital expense. It's only natural that they'd go the DIY route.
Is your friendly neighborhood enterprise going to go the DIY server route? Probably not. Of course, Wall Street firms may go DIY, but the average company is going to go with what Dell, HP and IBM offer.
When we're all running companies off cloud farms and services, this customized server movement will impact sales. That day is probably years away.
By the numbers, Dell, IBM and HP are showing solid server growth. HP's quarter -- with its spin-off of the PC unit and the purchase of Autonomy -- was a disaster, but the server business held up nicely. If these customized Facebook servers were hurting sales, HP CEO Leo Apotheker wouldn't have been complaining about how Oracle's move to stop supporting Itanium hurt high-end sales.
Rest assured, the server business will have to adapt to new threats. In the long run, virtualization means you'll buy fewer servers going forward. DIY servers will matter too, but most companies aren't going to play with build-your-own servers. We're not all running social networking, cloud services and search algorithms.