Servers, datacenters to see same upheaval as PC industry

Servers are fun again as Intel and HP pitch new architectures for the datacenter. Server market upheaval is sure to follow---and probably rhyme with what the PC industry has seen.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

New architectures. New processor players. New form factors. And a new emphasis on specific task-based workloads.

Welcome to the new reality facing the server industry. The upheaval appears to be rhyming with the post PC era and the changes that mobility, tablets and smartphones have forced.

This week, two major server players---Hewlett-Packard and Intel---pitched new architectures for so-called hyperscale datacenters. These datacenters will be the backbone of the cloud. For HP, the plan is to sell cartridges in systems that are processor agnostic. In this world, even a chip maker like Texas Instruments and its digital signal processors can get into the server business with HP for video and audio workloads. In addition, the ARM architecture will become a reality in the datacenter.

Intel also laid out a plan, which revolves around minimizing the rack in the datacenter. The rack is a staple that has been around forever. As Nick Heath noted:

Intel's reference rack system design will be modular at a subsystem level, allowing storage, CPU, memory and networking to be replaced independently, said Diane Bryant, Intel's senior vice president and general manager of the datacenter and connected systems group at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing.

HP's vision lines up with Intel's to a large degree. Not so surprisingly, IBM has an event on Thursday to outline its plans for the "new era of computing."

Connecting the dots on the 21st century datacenter: Intel lays out plans for the hyperscale datacenter | Moonshot: Can HP's shot at microserver domination succeed? | Calxeda: ARM-based HP Moonshot 'later this year' | Toolkit: Calculate datacenter server power usage | HP launches first Project Moonshot server: The shape of things to come? | HP launches Project Moonshot, powered with Intel's Atom at first | 

So what's next? Servers will come in more flavors for specific tasks and workloads. Today, the datacenter focus is on hyperscale. Rest assured, enterprise applications and optimizing them will follow. One rack in the datacenter may feature various processors as well as system requirements. The overall goal is to lower power consumption. The companies that provide the guts of a datacenter will compete on new designs and power-saving features.

HP's Moonshot server.


If all this sounds familiar it should. The PC industry had a similar shakeup. Few PC vendors caught the mobility curve and fumbled tablets. Some vendors---Lenovo for instance---did OK with navigating the new world order, but others---say Dell---struggled. Intel is still trying to find its mobility mojo as rivals such as Qualcomm run off with tablet and smartphone market share.

Simply put, not all datacenter players will win. The only certainty with these new reference designs and hardware creations is that some of your well-known enterprise vendors will flop.

The good news for tech buyers is that this revamped server market and the upheaval that comes with it will mean opportunities. May the server and datacenter overhaul speed up.

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