Channel Marker

Jun 20 2011   8:30PM GMT

The cloud vs. converged hardware

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

As Oracle, Cisco  and Hewlett-Packard try to convince the world that every data center needs Oracle or Cisco or HP’s own unique brand of converged hardware–that mythical IT beast that somehow combines the best of every breed plus absolute adherence to industry standards–there seems to be a growing realization in the real world that there just ain’t much of a market for such products.

Example: When Oracle CEO Larry Ellison unveiled the Exalogic “cloud in a box” at Oracle Open World last year he maintained that it’s the perfect solution for companies like Facebook because a pair of Exadatas could run the whole Facebook work load. That may well be true but there’s a small problem: At last count there are a very limited number of Facebooks in the world (one at last count) and none of them appear to be using this sort of hardware.

Exalogic, detractors say, is far from cloud in a box because it requires companies to buy a lot more hardware than they may need. Admittedly, they can then grow into their hardware, but in a real cloud, they could start out buying/renting just the capacity they need and then scale up and down, paying only what they actually use–not a shelf full of expensive CPUs and infiniband networking.

In Boston last week, master marketeer Marc Benioff decried much of the noise from hardware vendors seeking to unload pricey server-storage-networking bundles as nothing more than the rantings of a “false cloud” that is “not economical, not environmental and not democratic.”

Of course, Benioff, an Oracle alum, has a dog in this fight. His Salesforce.com has led the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) charge for years now and is watching as legacy competitors like Microsoft and SAP scrap to catch up. He’s also made a lot of hay out of how Salesforce.com runs on a boatload of inexpensive commodity Dell servers. He emphatically denied rumors that Salesforce.com, like NetSuite, bought Oracle Exalogic/Exadata hardware.

Not to pick one side of a marketing war (although I am), but Benioff  actually has a point when he says that if your cloud requires a big hardware purchase then it’s not, in fact,  cloud.

He also took aim at other “legacy” IT powers claiming that Microsoft CTO Craig Mundie once told him that the existence of Salesforce.com probably  meant that 400,000 to 600,000 servers were not sold over the past few years.  Salesforce, he claimed, runs all the CRM and SFA workloads for some 100,000 active customers on 2,000 servers.

Whether or not those exact numbers are true is almost beside the point. The existence of truly efficient cloud computing means that companies like Cisco and Oracle and HP will have a very hard sell for their pricey, some-would-say proprietary big boxes going forward.

The lack of a market for big-bang converged hardware may be bad for these vendors that have a lot at stake in grabbing more of the data center workload for themselves. It’s less bad for VARs who already know how to build less-pricey multi-vendor hardware and software solutions for those shops. And it’s probably good news for those elite VARs and integrators who can help customer businesses figure out where and when true cloud computing fits into their IT plans.  Who can do cost-benefit analysis and show customers when it makes sense to offload compute loads or storage to a cloud provider and when it’s a smarter move to keep stuff in house. For those VARs, as the mantra has long held, there’s margin in complexity.

In the meantime, watch for Cisco, HP, Oracle to keep on claiming the cloud mantle while pushing these very pricey and uncloudlike hardware solutions to data center customers.  

Let us know what you think about the story; email Barbara Darrow, Senior News Director at bdarrow@techtarget.com.

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