Big Data, ARM and Legal Concerns on the Rise in Q4

Some might call the fourth quarter in the infrastructure space transformative. The rise of ARM-based processing suggests the days of x86 dominance might be coming to an end, while the Amazon Web Services-WikiLeaks controversy cast new light on the legal aspects of cloud computing. Big data got bigger, meanwhile, as the Hadoop ecosystem expanded, and amid all these cutting-edge technologies, two archaic topics — Novell and Java — proved they aren’t going anywhere soon. From giants like VMware and IBM to smaller startups like Nimbula and Abiquo, news came from all corners of the Infrastructure market during the fourth quarter. Let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy trends.

  • The Amazon-WikiLeaks controversy shed light on the fact that many pundits appear oblivious to the legal aspects of cloud computing, which leads to overreaction when it appears that cloud providers are acting questionably. The reality is that providers are almost certainly acting within the rights granted to them by their terms of services, as well as by the Constitution. If it comes down to a decision between potentially facing legal action or removing questionably legal (or moral) content, it’s kind of crazy to expect cloud providers — especially publicly traded ones such as Amazon — to do anything other than what’s prudent.
  • The x86 processor architecture appears down, but certainly not out. Alternative CPU architectures (particularly ARM) and GPUs are squeezing x86 from all directions, and are beginning to steal workloads in traditionally x86-dominant fields, such as HPC. However, it will take years before ARM processors or GPUs can ever really make a dent in x86 market share (or, in some cases, will even be on the market). So chipmakers such as Intel and AMD have some time to get creative if they’re determined to hitch their wagons to x86 for the foreseeable future.
  • Platform as a service (PaaS) is no longer just infrastructure as a service’s (IaaS) younger, cooler brother. The acquisitions of Makara and Heroku by Red Hat and, respectively, as well as VMware’s hosted PaaS project, illustrate that PaaS is a legitimate IT delivery model, even if mainstream adoption is still a few years away. Of course, anyone following the evolution of VMware’s vFabric or Microsoft Windows Azure might have realized this a while ago.
  • Analysts and investors don’t really understand cloud computing, web infrastructure or the related data-center operation market. From complaints about web companies such as Google spending hundreds of millions on CAPEX to investors bailing because Equinix had a lackluster quarter, the fourth quarter illustrated reactionary thinking that’s contrary to the facts. Internet traffic and demand for data center space both keep growing, and will continue to do so as cloud computing actually starts catching on among mainstream businesses. All that space will make money at some point.
  • Oracle really doesn’t care about open source. Its actions within the various Java governance bodies have done nothing but produce hurt feelings and flat-out animosity, which are only compounded by its ongoing lawsuit against Google. Whether Oracle is technically correct in either matter isn’t really the issue as far as open source advocates are concerned; they’re more concerned with things like openness and cooperation. Oracle, on the other hand, cares about making money. The question is whether it can do so without broad Java community support.
  • The Hadoop ecosystem shows no signs of slowing its growth, but it’s unclear what will come of the web of partnerships and integrations. There are a few competing approaches to selling Hadoop shaping up, and there’s no guarantee that Cloudera’s partner-centric strategy, for example, will prevail against IBM’s Hadoop-as-application strategy. What’s certain, however, is that even companies nowhere near the cutting edge will utilize Hadoop at some point, because it’s becoming too ubiquitous to avoid forever.
  • We’re a long way off from where we need to be on Green IT. Many energy-efficiency players still focus on saving money rather than actually reducing energy use, and even generally accepted notions (i.e., cloud computing is a net positive in terms of energy use) are coming under increased scrutiny. Startups selling software for monitoring energy use are raising money but are not necessarily attracting customers. Might it take a string of brownouts or governmental action to spur action toward truly green IT?

For more analysis of these events and a look forward into the next 18 to 24 months, read my latest report at GigaOM Pro.

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