Cloudy Server Growth

Infoworld recently posted an interesting article (The numbers don’t lie — cloud computing boosts server sales) about how server market revenues have increased by around 11 percent in the second quarter of 2010, with quarterly revenues coming in around $10.9 billion for the quarter. In fact, if you look at IDC’s 2Q10 press release, unit shipments were up 23.8% year over year which is impressive, reportedly the fastest quarter over quarter growth in 5 years. Much of this can certainly be attributed to recovery of the server market segment, but as David Linthicum discusses, shouldn’t overall server growth start declining in the face of server virtualization and cloud computing? Hm… good point.

In many ways, growth in the face of a technology shift caused by more efficient cloud and utility based computing models should not be that surprising given we’ve seen a similar phenomenon before. We lived through it in the early broadband communications days where the concept of an overlay network was used to introduce new services non-disruptively i.e. rather than replace the old network, a new one was built along side hence the term “overlay”. So it is not an unlikely scenario in the cloud age where both corporate and public computer-storage networks are effectively overlaying new systems on top of their existing systems to minimize disruptions and in many cases, testing this stuff out incrementally before they turn it all over to cloud and virtualization – be it internal or externally hosted.

This definitely seemed to be the case when I recently called my hosting provider to ask why FrontPage extensions could no longer be enabled for a website I was putting together as a temporary placeholder for another project. Turned out that all new customers were being steered to the new “grid computer system” which doesn’t support FrontPage extensions anymore, so I had to be moved back to the “legacy” systems. Bingo…. two networks, one for old and one for new. Reminded me of a tour of a central office in Austin, Texas we were given when developing the early broadband network technologies. We were there to review how they planned to roll out DSL when it eventually arrived. I was surprised then to see a lone Siemens digital switch in the corner providing ISDN services purely for data as an overlay service instead of using the already huge installed base of AT&T switches they’d been using for mainline customers and installing ISDN line cards. The technology and switch could handle it, but for service and disruption reasons it was not the preferred way to roll out an infant service.

Bottom line. Traditional models always stick around much longer than us technologists think for usually non-technical reasons, even when there are many advantages to ditching the old stuff for the new. Another reminder of the hype curve age we live in.