The Hardware Battle in the Clouds

As is evident from a recent article in The Economist (as well as several of the past posts on this blog), cloud computing is becoming very prominent in the information technology world. Companies are scrambling to provide new cloud-based services, and people are doing more tasks in the cloud as more cloud systems become available.

However, the cloud-based software that we often hear about is only part of the innovation happening in this area. Hardware makers are also creating new systems to support cloud computing companies. Only a small number of companies (such as Google) are configuring their own cloud-server systems. Many companies are acquiring their cloud systems from traditional hardware providers such as HP, IBM, and Dell.

These providers have had made significant changes to their products in order to meet cloud companies’ need for more compact, efficient, and scalable sets of servers. Cloud computing companies prefer economical systems that are optimized to perform a single task, and traditional servers are often built to be robust and flexible, making them too costly and complex for cloud systems. Hardware companies have responded to these new needs by stripping redundant parts from their servers, which works out since the reliability of individual computers in cloud systems is not of key importance, and by making hardware smaller and more efficient.

All the large cloud hardware providers have made it clear that their systems focus on efficiency and scalability. However, they have each also highlighted potentially differentiating strengths of their systems in their marketing materials. Dell has advertised their ability to provide solutions that can support private and public cloud systems, IBM has pushed the fact that their cloud servers are extremely power efficient, and HP has highlighted how easily their web-server systems can scale. The success of these manufacturers with their cloud systems is not clear yet; however, it is known that Dell already supplies hardware to a number of the key cloud companies (including Microsoft), and so they may have an early lead in the cloud computing hardware race.