Cloud Provider Commentary

Sep 15 2011   9:05AM GMT

Bloomberg: Custom cloud servers backing Dell and HP into a corner

Jessica Scarpati Jessica Scarpati Profile: Jessica Scarpati

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.”

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