Wired got an interesting scoop from Intel this week: Google has been buying chips directly from Intel for five years, bypassing traditional data center infrastructure vendors to build its own servers, storage and networking devices.
According to Wired‘s Robert McMillan:
“It’s certainly not anything that the companies involved discussed openly, so it is kind of a big deal that they said something on the record,” says Dean McCarron, who runs Mercury Research. McCarron reckons that about 10 percent of the approximately 16 million server chips sold each year go to big internet companies that are skipping the mainstream server vendors.
One of the reasons that data center operators are so hush-hush about their purchasing decisions is that they don’t want to tip their hand whenever they’re adding capacity. That can drive up prices for other components of the build out — bumping up costs for everything from real estate to networking gear.
Obviously, very few cloud providers have the means or motivation to follow Google’s footsteps here. And while Google’s strategy is grounded in using custom hardware to build a competitive advantage, it echoes something I’ve heard anecdotally from cloud providers big and small: Vendors often aren’t meeting their needs, so they’ve taken to building their own systems.
This is no shocker for the larger providers, particularly the telcos, which have long developed custom systems and applications through their internal research and development divisions. Nor have I heard about a consistent area of complaint among cloud providers adopting a do-it-yourself strategy — sometimes it’s with networking, sometimes storage, sometimes platforms. But it seems those anecdotes and stories like this one from Wired — in addition to the growing interest in open source projects like OpenStack and OpenFlow – all seem to point toward the suggestion that either vendors aren’t satisfying cloud provider needs, or data center infrastructure has become such a differentiator that it’s better to build rather than buy.
Either way, it’s not good news for vendors.]]>
If purchasing cloud computing infrastructure were as easily customizable as ordering a pizza, cloud providers such as Rackspace and Terremark wouldn’t be gravitating toward the Open Data Center Alliance and Facebook’s Open Compute project for guidance on customizing cloud servers to meet their needs.
Unfortunately for providers, purchasing cloud servers today is like only being able to order a pizza that automatically comes with extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage, anchovies, spinach, grilled chicken, pineapple, mushrooms, onions, ground beef, roasted peppers, olives and artichokes (and as a native New Yorker, it truly pained me to write that. Pineapple has no business on pizza).
In a data center, those superfluous toppings translate into power-consuming server components that are unnecessary for cloud computing — such as USB ports, videos cards and sound cards — yet come standard on commercial servers.
Dell and HP need to take some pineapple off their pizzas, according to Bloomberg News’ latest look at the incumbent server vendors’ bottom lines (Dell Loses Orders as Facebook Do-It-Yourself Servers Gain). Custom-built servers now account for 20% of the U.S. server market, and vendors’ cloud server dollars are slumping, according to Bloomberg:
Hewlett-Packard, which last month cut its profit forecast for the third time since November, can’t afford to lose momentum in one of its better-performing units. Hewlett-Packard’s revenue from the servers that are typically deployed in so-called cloud- computing data centers rose slower than the industry average in the second quarter, according to Gartner.
Dell, where sales have barely budged for two quarters, needs to keep server customers happy too. Dell’s sales of servers based on PC chips — the type most often used in cloud- computing data centers — grew 4.4 percent in the June period, according to Gartner. Cloud-computing networks store and deliver software and services via the Internet.
In one indication of the growing demand for servers that are being built from the ground up, Intel Corp. (INTC) said its revenue from chips used to craft servers for data centers surged 50 percent in the second quarter.
Will cloud server vendors respond to this demand? Jeff Deacon, Verizon’s managing director for cloud services at Terremark, told us recently that he’s confident the day will come — eventually.
“There are other companies like Google that publish specs on their gear, and some of the interesting things they’re doing around using batteries actually on the server chassis itself, rather than using UPS systems in the data center, to reduce costs significantly,” Deacon said. “I think over time major hardware vendors are going to embrace [those ideas], so I think it’ll be commercially available.”