The Cloud and Nothing But the Cloud

Arthur Cole

Is it time to admit that the cloud has become so pervasive that it is now the driving force behind nearly all IT development?

It certainly seems that way when you consider all of the new systems and technologies hitting the channel specifically geared toward improved cloud computing.

Clearly, the impact on the server market cannot be overstated. As IDC reports this week, servers sales are on pace to hit $718 million by 2014, a 23 percent gain over 2009, largely to accommodate that vast amount of data that is moving to public cloud services. Meanwhile, the private cloud market is looking to more than double to $5.7 billion during the same period.

New processors are targeting cloud applications in a big way as well. AMD's new 4000 series, for instance, is designed for the kind of high-performance, low-power environments that are coming to dominate cloud-based infrastructures. The device comes in four- and six-core versions and cuts power consumption to less than 6W, a quarter less than the previous generation. As such, it allows you to double the number of servers within the same power budget due to the corresponding reduction in heat sinks, power supplies, fans and other devices.

The cloud is also driving much of the development at top tier vendors like Microsoft. As eWEEK's Daryl K. Taft points out, products like Windows Azure have turned the company's Server and Tools business into the company's third-largest unit, behind Windows and Office. That growth is expected to continue as new products like AppFabric and cloud-centric add-ons to stalwarts like .NET and Visual Studio kick in over the next year.

Some would argue, however, that there is nothing really new here -- that all of these developments, and even the cloud itself, are merely part of the larger movement toward virtual environments. That may be true up to a point, but as Simeon Simeonov, CEO of a firm called FastIgnite describes it, the connection between the two technologies is not set in stone. While everyone agrees that there would be no cloud without virtualization, even virtualization pioneer VMware has realized that reliance on virtual infrastructure will only last until cloud-based apps do away with the need for dedicated servers and operating systems. At that point, the resource overhead that virtualization requires, currently in the 8 to 12 percent range for just a single VM, will be too high as application requirements shift from local file and process resources to network-based Web and data services.

If this trend line is pursued to its fullest extent, we'll all be living in a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) universe, in which underlying infrastructure is irrelevant to whatever task is at hand and neither applications nor users would give a flying fig about what kind of hardware -- or operating system for that matter -- is being used to support them.

And to make that happen, we will need a broad set of cloud-ready hardware resources capable of supporting these next-generation applications -- even if they'll get no respect for the job they do.

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