From Google’s $774m Q2 data center spend (a result of burgeoning infrastructure requirements as it expands its operations) to the launch of Dell’s new Tactical Mobile Data Center (TMDC), which can (no joke) be airlifted into combat situations for immediate strategic deployment, DC is behind some of the industry’s biggest and most interesting headlines.
Most of the genuinely groundbreaking DC stories that we’ve seen are as a result of innovation. Take the Dell example above - did we mention that the TMDC also uses camouflage to blend in to the battlefield? - or the recent news, again from Google, that canny engineers had used 16,000 processor cores in the search giant’s DC setup to build a self-taught computer.
Granted, that computer - dubbed a ‘neural network’ - only taught itself to recognise cats after a week of watching YouTube videos, but that’s a massive leap forward in terms of how the next generation of DC could function.
Innovation in how the DC can be used, then, is alive and kicking. But what of innovation in the actual data center itself?
There are few better places to look when trying to get a handle on who’s making waves than the latest batch of reports from Gartner. Long the de facto standard for vendor performance, Gartner takes an in-depth look at the many different factors that govern DC performance, resulting in the prestigious ‘Magic Quadrant’ that servers as a kind of promised land for IT vendors the world over.
Much of the fiercest competition - and thus innovation - in DC right now is taking place in the arena of blade servers. Blades, introduced in the early 2000s, focus on front end and midtier applications, and these days many blade server configurations are put to work on enabling virtual desktops for global enterprises.
For many years now, blade has been dominated by three of the industry’s biggest names: HP, IBM and Dell. HP, the market leader since 2007, boasts a market share that sits consistently around the 50% mark. Its broad range of blades, including Intel Xeon, AMD Opteron and Intel Itanium lines have helped to establish HP as a major player in the last decade, and a constant focus on innovation has helped to keep it there.
IBM, also a long-term blade specialist, currently holds the worldwide number two position. With the broadest set of blade chassis options (five in total) and good work done in the past few years on refining its supply chain, IBM has also used the purchase of Blade Network Technologies in 2010 to strengthen its offering.
Dell, too, has been busy, acquiring Compellent, Force 10 Networks, RNA and Scalent in the past few years. Many of those purchases have been put to work straight away, with new system offerings - such as its new “ultra-light” setup -expected to launch during the coming months.
For some time now, this trinity of names has remained untouched and unchallenged. But for many, Gartner’s most recent Magic Quadrant featured a big surprise: the presence of Cisco.
It’s been just over two years since Cisco launched its Unified Computing System (UCS for short). For the uninitiated, UCS is Cisco’s take on the data center: the ‘Unified’ of the title represents the fact that when it was announced in March 2009, UCS offered the industry’s first ever converged data center platform. Integrating servers, network and I/O resources into a single system, UCS puts the emphasis on improving application performance and availability.
24 months down the line, the platform is doing well (to the undoubted surprise of some of Cisco’s keenest rivals in this space). UCS has picked up around 12,000 customers in its two years on the market, resulting in Cisco improving its worldwide market share within blade by almost 11% during 2011 alone. That has put it within just a few points of IBM.
In March this year, Cisco announced that in the three years since its introduction, UCS had captured a staggering 63 world-record performance results by either outperforming the competition or introducing market firsts. Now in its third generation, Cisco says that UCS customers are enjoying everything from 90% reductions in deployment time to 60% power and cooling cost reductions.
That traction hasn’t gone unnoticed, prompting Gartner to move Cisco from ‘Visionary’ to ‘Leader’ in March’s Magic Quadrant. That’s no mean feat; lest we forget, Cisco has effectively come from nowhere to occupy a space on Gartner’s graph that - traditionally - takes years to move into.
So, to return to the title of this article, just why is this such good news for you? As with any strand of IT, the arrival of a new name in the market - especially one which has gone so far, so fast - results in a more competitive, more innovative and, vitally, more cost-effective environment.
Consider the tablet market for instance. Just as Apple revolutionised the industry with the first iPad, today it faces big competition from a range of vendors that are looking to out-think and out-price the original tablet. For consumers, that’s great news - presenting them with more powerful or cheaper alternatives depending on want they want.
The same is true of DC, with vendors like Cisco stepping up to the plate and fundamentally reinventing the way that DC operates, sparking a perpetual revolution.
And that can only mean great things for DC customers worldwide.
Dave Simpson - Softcat Commercial Director