Today in Cloud

Heather Clancy had a piece on ZDNet late last week, reporting IBM’s efforts to develop a solar array specifically designed to deliver data center power. This resonates nicely with a conversation I just had with Lex Coors, VP of Group Data Center Technology and Engineering at European data center provider Interxion. As part of a broader discussion on the improving green credentials of most data centers, Lex had a lot to say about cooling, about passing waste heat to the wider community, and about the need for hardware vendors to design computers that can run hotter. But on powering data centers, he pointed out a clear split between practice in Europe and in the U.S. In Europe, he said, data centers tend to simply draw power from the continent-spanning power grid. In North America, on the other hand, there is far more interest in data centers generating at least some of their power for themselves… and IBM’s new solar array may presumably have a role to play there. Luckily, those fog-bound Dublin data centers don’t need to worry about finding enough sunshine just yet.

Today in Cloud

Data storage company HDS has unveiled an integrated set of products, designed to persuade big enterprise clients that the Hitachi subsidiary is their one-stop-shop for data storage and cloud requirements. As well as selling hardware for deployment at customer sites HDS also offers a cloud-based data storage service, and tools to manage the flow of data between locations. As Mike Vizard notes, recent acquisitions fill in some of the gaps to enable HDS to integrate systems that were previously more siloed. By making such a strong services play, the storage company comes far closer to competing with the integrated offerings of bigger players like HP and IBM. There are some nice pieces to the HDS story, but has it done enough to compete compellingly, or merely drawn the attention of belligerent — and larger — competitors? According to Jack Clark at ZDNet, HDS believes that uncertainty around HP may work to their advantage. That, perhaps, remains to be seen.

Today in Cloud

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports Gartner figures suggesting that homegrown servers such as those built to Facebook’s Open Compute designs “now account for 20 percent of the U.S. market for servers.” Whilst the article points to the detrimental effect this trend is apparently having on traditional server vendors such as Dell and HP, it paints a rosier picture for chip manufacturers with “Intel Corp. [reporting] its revenue from chips used to craft servers for data centers surged 50 percent in the second quarter.” Intel (presumably?) sees higher margins selling chips this way, with bespoke server build-outs commanding far smaller bulk discounts than behemoths like HP. ZDNet’s Larry Dignan is more cautious than Gartner or BusinessWeek, noting “it’s unclear how many orders Dell, HP and IBM were really losing. There aren’t any concrete examples or figures to back up the premise.” Dignan is right, and continues “For Facebook and Google, the data center is the largest capital expense. It’s only natural that they’d go the DIY route.” The same is far less true for Wal-Mart or Ford or Boeing, where IT infrastructure is a necessary cost (and hassle) of doing business; it’s far easier for them to haggle a good deal for boxes from Dell or HP than to concern themselves with sourcing power supplies, and cables, and chassis’, and solder, and fans, and processors, and RAM, and all the rest. So DIY servers are growing nicely, but only really in niche areas such as the server farms of the web’s giants. The nightmare scenario of the Boeing designed-and-built server in a Boeing data center, or the Wal-Mart designed-and-built server in every Wal-Mart is unlikely to keep Dell and Apotheker awake at night. Far more worrying might be the prospect of new low-margin upstarts entering the business and selling Open Compute-inspired servers to the customers upon which Dell, HP, IBM and all the rest depend.

Today in Cloud

Austin-based Spanning already offers a backup service for the calendar, contacts and documents within Google Apps, giving their customers some peace of mind in the face of (vanishingly unlikely) catastrophic data loss at Google or (far more probable) inadvertent file deletion by the customer themselves. Today the company added a Gmail backup capability. Unlike the existing service, which is free for up to three users per domain, the Gmail backup requires a paid subscription. Many cloud customers probably assume that their cloud provider handles backup already, and often they sort of do. Interesting times lie ahead, as companies like Spanning and Backupify explain why we need them, and as less reputable actors perhaps start trying to dupe unsuspecting cloud users into paying for “backup” services that they really don’t need.

Today in Cloud

Low-power computing specialist SeaMicro has shipped a new server featuring 768 cores, a significant increase on the 512 cores of the previous product released just a few months ago. GigaOM’s Stacey Higginbotham notes that the performance boost is accompanied by 25% reduction in power consumption. Over at VentureBeat, Dean Takahashi reports that the 17.5″ (44.5cm) high box “can replace… 60 traditional servers, four rack switches, four terminal servers, and a load balancing server. It uses a quarter of the power and a sixth of the space.” SeaMicro currently uses processors provided by Intel, although Larry Dignan picks up on the company’s intention to be “processor agnostic,” noting that ARM-powered servers should follow next year. SeaMicro’s innovations around increasing processor density whilst reducing power consumption sound impressive, but these servers aren’t yet for everyone. RAM configurations and — especially — the relatively low power of these “wimpy cores” mean that today they’re best-suited to serving high volumes of reasonably quick, reasonably simple tasks such as delivering web pages.

Today in Cloud

Continuing some of the public/private theme from yesterday, I found this recent ZDNet column from Phil Wainewright interesting. He notes that many of the biggest providers of “public” clouds run them on dedicated infrastructure that might easily be considered “private.” Phil describes it as “the paradox at the heart of ‘public’ cloud provision.” Actually, it’s surely just good sense and the right way to run a particular type of business. I don’t see the problem, in terms of business or in terms of what it means for public and private clouds.

Today in Cloud

A Microsoft executive’s answer to a question during the London launch of Office 365 last month has caused a bit of a storm. As Zack Whittaker reported for ZDNet, Microsoft “admitted” that the U.S. company might have to surrender European customer data if required to do so by U.S. law enforcement agencies invoking the USA PATRIOT Act. The problem, which is actually reasonably well known, is that the PATRIOT Act trumps the Safe Harbor agreements in place between the United States and Europe, and that normally provide a mechanism for U.S. companies to demonstrate their compliance with Europe’s tough data privacy laws. Jennifer Baker reports for Computerworld that the European Parliament is now getting involved, concerned that European data may be at risk. It is certainly true that the extreme powers of the PATRIOT Act could be used to sweep aside the Safe Harbor principles, and customers should be aware that it’s legally permissible. It’s also quite unlikely — unless you’re storing data in which U.S. law enforcement might have a legitimate anti-terror interest. Open and informed discussion of the issues is to be welcomed. Blind panic that — “suddenly” — the FBI will start reading European email? Less helpful.

Today in Cloud

Friday’s news was about the UK positioning itself as a cloud leader, and two more stories over the weekend continue in a similar European vein. Phil Wainewright reports on the recent EuroCloud Congress in Luxembourg, and stresses the importance of the €35 billion ($50.66 billion) European cloud market in enabling non-IT businesses to do what they need to do. Elsewhere, Tom Jowitt reports today’s launch of a new UK Cloud Alliance. It’s unclear how this relates to the existing UK chapter of EuroCloud, for example, and I hope that neither well-meaning enthusiasm nor political schism end up diluting the useful advocacy role that organisations like these can sometimes play.

Today in Cloud

Microsoft’s online adjunct to their market-dominating Office productivity suite has been in beta for a while, and it looks as if a formal launch is now due within the month. Mary-Jo Foley cited sources inside the company last week in suggesting that the product’s code is pretty well finished. Jon Brodkin over at InfoWorld published a piece overnight in which he claims that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer let the date slip in a presentation to an industry group in Delhi last week. Brodkin points to a Microsoft transcript of the speech, in which Ballmer is reported to say “We’re pushing hard in the productivity space. We’ll launch our Office 365 cloud service, which gives you Lync and Exchange and SharePoint and Office and more as a subscribable service that comes from the cloud. That launches in the month of June.” As I noted when the beta became available, Microsoft Office already has incredibly strong brand recognition, and Office 365 will play well with those customers. Whether it will persuade anyone to move off cloud-based competitors like Google Apps or Zoho remains to be seen.

Today in Cloud

Larry Dignan published a post at the end of last week, in which he speculated that the increasingly loud public cloud mutterings from IBM, Dell, Hewlett Packard and others are part of them positioning for “the day where no one builds a data center.” All are investing heavily in public clouds, in cloudy research centers, in their own new data centers, and playing to their strengths. Trusted enterprise-grade partners with whom you’ve done business for decades, and therefore surely a better bet than a jumped-up bookseller from Seattle. Anyone would think they were scared. And yet… Hewlett Packard is investing in a business unit that designs, builds and manages customer data centers, all three are churning out new hardware and selling it to willing buyers, and the surveys keep telling us that some ridiculously high proportion of companies plan to build new data centers in the coming years. Are all the signs right? Are we seeing more need for data centers and less? Do these big IT companies have an overarching plan, or are they as confused as everyone else, launching contradictory and competing internal projects in the hope that one will pay off?