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Spurred by the rising use of online storage and infrastructure systems to support client cloud services, cloud servers will enjoy robust prospects in 2012 and then move on to become the fastest-growing segment of the server industry within three years, according to a recent report from IHS iSuppli.

1.8 Million Cloud Servers to Be Shipped in 2015

Shipments of cloud servers are projected to reach 875 thousand units in 2012, up a notable 35% from 647 thousand in 2011 and nearly double the 460 thousand in 2010, IHS claims. High growth rates ranging from 23 to 30% are anticipated for each of the next three years until 2015, by which time cloud server shipments will have hit approximately 1.8 million units. The five-year compound annual growth rate for cloud servers beginning in 2010 stands at 31% - five times greater than the forecast for the total server market.

Cloud servers also will make up an increasing portion of total server shipments - growing from just a little more than 5% of the market in 2010 to more than 15% in 2015.

Cloud Server: Inexpensive, Efficient, Expandable

For the servers used in cloud data centers, easy maintenance and the capability to add more servers are highly valued. As a result, performance is not the key metric here; what counts instead is expandability, energy efficiency and low cost.

Since physical footprint is valuable in a data center, the type of equipment that will find the greatest adoption in the space likely will include both rack-optimized servers and highly condensed blade servers, with their modular setup made up of a single motherboard incorporating microprocessors, memory and a network interface.

Also gaining in importance will be the practice of virtualization, in which a single physical server runs multiple operating systems and applications in order to bring about a higher degree of server utilization.

Cloud Computing to Redefine Businesses

Cloud computing is a type of distributed computing, similar to grid or utility computing, in which a work object is split into parts and is then processed simultaneously by discrete computers that run over the Internet. In cloud architecture, the hardware, software and services are provided to users, who then pay for applications and storage space based only on the amount used.

“Clouds can be personal and geared toward the consumer - such as those offered by Apple, Google and Amazon - for users to store and manage their own data; or they can be oriented toward the enterprise for business operations. For the enterprise in particular, the cloud can be deployed as software, platform or infrastructure to help keep information technology costs down. The benefits are many, including higher utilization of server devices, low capital expenditure for clients, high scalability and access to the service across multiple devices,” said Peter Lin, senior analyst for compute platforms at IHS.

Cloudy, with a Chance of Heavy Growth

Given the massive potential of cloud computing in the years to come, a number of industry players have joined the fray either as hardware or software providers.

Hardware providers for cloud computing include server original equipment manufacturers (OEM); storage OEMs; server original development manufacturers (ODM); and microprocessor vendors. Software providers, on the other hand, include operating system vendors as well as application or service providers.

While traditional server customers such as the enterprise, the banking industry and the government bought server products from either OEMs or value-added resellers (VARs), the server sales channel is evolving into a hybrid model in light of the rising popularity of direct sales by ODMs to their nontraditional end customers. Increasingly, clients appear unable to get their ideal configuration of product from current server OEMs, tending instead to go for customized models sourced directly from server ODMs - usually from Taiwanese-based companies like Quanta and Wistron.

The rise of the white-box server-direct model will pose both an opportunity and a threat to ODMs and OEMs alike, as they usually do business together. Both entities must balance those relationships while competing for new clients in what will be the fastest-growing and most important segment in the server industry through 2015, IHS believes.

Tags: AMD, Intel, x86, Dell, HP, IBM, Quanta, Wistron, Amazon, Apple, Google

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