It's been said that hardware is losing its luster in the age of the cloud. With most productivity gains taking place on the virtual and application layers, hardware merely has to keep running to fulfill its role in the knowledge industry.
But that's only true to a certain extent. While it's true that raw hardware has gone beyond the mere commodity stage now that the cloud provides compute, network and storage resources on a utility basis, many vendors are responding with new hardware configurations aimed at specialized applications.
Take IBM, for example. The company recently launched a new family of Power7 systems pre-loaded with ERP software from Infor. The goal is to optimize the platform for industry-specific workloads using tools like automated planning, scheduling and fulfillment found on Infor's LX, XA and System21 ERP stacks. The setup is available on Power 720 Express and 740 Express servers and runs atop the i operating system alongside DB2 and other middleware solutions.
Dell has gotten into the act as well, releasing a new set of PowerEdge C-series machines outfitted with the Cloudera distribution of the popular Hadoop open source processing platform. The software has gained in popularity as enterprises struggle to cope with increasing amounts of unstructured data, and the Dell/Cloudera combo provides a ready-made solution that can scale from six to 720 nodes.
Pre-configured hardware also helps with the thorny configuration and management issues that often accompany open source solutions, according to gigaom.com's Derrick Harris. Traditionally, enterprises preferred to keep their software options open when it came to provisioning new hardware, which meant a lot of integration when running open source. But with the rise of the cloud and distributed computing in general, pre-defined environments could emerge as a necessity in highly dynamic data environments.
HP seems to be leaning in this direction with its recent embrace of the OpenStack platform. The company has yet to announce a new hardware portfolio, but it has been busy touting OpenStack's ability to forge integrated infrastructure solutions that span internal and external cloud environments.
Whether open or proprietary, pre-configured systems stand a good chance of assuming a number of key functions within the data center, particularly as access to general-purpose computing enters the realm of point-and-click simplicity. For organizations with a steady need for ERP, CRM and other business applications, a local hardware-based solution would start to look very appealing as data environments migrate onto the cloud.