A few weeks ago on our sister site Data Center Edge, I posed the question: "Does Hardware Matter Anymore?"
It seems that the more virtualization and the cloud come to dominate data center architecture, the more all of the major advances-the ones that are truly transforming the way we work and interact with others-are happening in the virtual and application layers. In the end, I reasoned that hardware does matter, but it no longer carries the weight of IT innovation. Hardware provides the foundation for all the fun stuff that's happening in the enterprise, but there isn't much reason to stress over a particular server deployment or storage array anymore-unless it fails.
You won't get any argument from the key proponents of virtualization and the cloud. VMware CEO Paul Maritz said as much last week at EMC's Strategic Forum, in which he proposed a complete re-architecture of the enterprise away from physical infrastructure-centric operations toward the more fluid and flexible virtual layer. In his view, even the operating system is a relic of the static environments of the past, destined to give way to a highly automated, infinitely scalable universe where both hardware and software resources can be mixed and matched on the fly.
The funny thing about all this, though, is that hardware is hot right now. After nearly two years of stagnant IT budgets, the floodgates are opening up and IT hardware sales are skyrocketing, according to IDC. The research firm pegs global 2010 IT spending at about $1.5 trillion, an 8 percent increase over the year before, with the vast majority of activity happening in core systems and project-based deployments. And this still represents rather anemic activity in the North American market, which is expected to kick into high gear this year.
The thing is, most of the new hardware stresses efficiency and consolidation these days, even those that do cut new ground in processing and data handling. A case in point is Dell's new PowerEdge C6145. It boasts an impressive 96 cores using either AMD Opteron 6000 or Intel Xeon 5600 processors and is said to top the rankings for a 2U x86 shared infrastructure, offering more than five times the price/performance of similar models. In the end, though, the message remains: New hardware can streamline underlying cloud infrastructure, but the real action takes place higher up in the stack.
Doing more with less is not a minor consideration, of course, but it does bring up the obvious decline that hardware will continue to see in the enterprise's list of priorities. New, more powerful hardware is no longer synonymous with improved data center operations. It merely provides a less expensive base on a small footprint.