Hardware Can Still Make or Break the Cloud

Arthur Cole

With so much attention paid to building the right virtual and software-defined architectures in the cloud, it is easy to forget that the cloud also needs the right hardware that in most cases is distinctly different from traditional data center infrastructure.

Regardless of whether the enterprise plans to link private clouds to public resources or throw their chips into an all-cloud solution, knowledge of how cloud infrastructure is evolving and why this is important to the data it holds is crucial.

According to CIO Review, cloud architectures are built with scale in mind, and this will almost invariably mean scale-out rather than scale-up. A baseline cloud server usually comprises two 1U servers per rack, such as a dual-processor machine and a twin. Since this often limits cooling capabilities, these servers will most often utilize four to eight low-power cores. Each server will also have appropriate memory to support its core count and the number of virtual machines it can support. A six-core CPU, for example, should provide seamless support for 96 GB of DRAM to service the 96 VMs it can house. But if you plan on implementing containers, you can probably get away with less memory even if the VM count is higher.

Many hardware manufacturers are starting to get the point about building higher-level architectures on bare metal, which is why we’re seeing increased integration between servers and leading open platforms like OpenStack. Supermicro recently teamed up with SUSE to implement Linux-based cloud workloads on the 1U Superserver. The combo provides a market-ready OpenStack solution that also incorporates hot-swappable NVMe drives to create high-density, high-performance environments. And Server Watch’s Sean Michael Kerner points out that this partnership may provide for easier integration into legacy HPE environments given that SUSE was the one that snared the company’s OpenStack and CloudFoundry software portfolio last November.


Top cloud providers are also making it easier to incorporate their services into on-premises hybrid clouds using hardware appliances rather than all-software constructs. Microsoft recently unveiled the Azure Stack appliance that acts as an extension of the Azure cloud into the enterprise data center. The company recently started validation tests with Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo, which means the initial devices should hit the channel next month. ZDnet’s Mary Jo Foley reports that Azure Stack services will be available on a consumption basis, and users will still be able to use their on-premises Windows Server and SQL Server licenses, which in some cases might cost less than the standard Azure licenses.

Meanwhile, Google is using hardware to make it easier to migrate workloads to its public cloud. The company recently unveiled the Transfer Appliance, which can be loaded up with enterprise data and literally shipped to Google via Fedex. Although it may be low-tech, says Venture Beat’s Blair Hanley Frank, it can actually deliver workloads quicker, depending on their size. The appliances come in 100 TB and 480 TB versions, which allow organizations to move upwards of 1 PB on a single unit using current compression methods. Amazon has an existing device called SnowBall that ranges from 50 TB to 100 TB in size.

Hardware has always mattered in the cloud, although it is becoming less and less of a daily concern for the enterprise as increasing levels of abstraction separate applications and services from raw infrastructure.

But as mentioned above, whether the goal is to improve the performance of a single cloud or distribute data among multiple clouds, hardware has a way of making these operations very easy or very difficult.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.


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