Top 10 Hardware, IT Infrastructure Stories of 2008

As with most sectors of high tech, the economy played a significant role in the hardware and infrastructure markets, as many companies lowered their already low IT spending forecasts. AMD's split and new chips from the chip maker and Intel, as well as the rise of netbooks, also make the list of the biggest infrastructure stories of 2008.

1. The Economy

Although several research firms predicted that IT spending would slow in 2008, the impact that the failures at Freddie Mac (the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.), Fannie Mae and Lehman Brothers in September caused many firms to lower their already low IT spending forecasts. The biggest impact: Spending on hardware from PCs to server systems is likely to slow more, and the outlook in 2009 is not much better. At the end of 2008, the slowdown forced Intel, a significant bellwether when it comes to IT spending, to lower its fourth-quarter 2008 revenue forecast.

2: AMD Splits in Two

After losing money for the last two years, Advanced Micro Devices signaled a major change in its business structure when it announced that it would split the company in two and spin off its manufacturing division into a new company. While AMD will continue to design, engineer and market microprocessors, the new company-The Foundry Co.-will manufacture the chips. (At this time, there is no official name for the new company.)

Click here for images of the top hardware products of 2008.

3. Intel Offers New Microarchitecture, Processors

In keeping with its goal to deliver new microarchitecture every two years, Intel delivered its Nehalem architecture as promised at the Intel Developer Forum in August, with the first chips based on that architecture-the Intel Core i7-by November. Intel made several significant changes with Nehalem, but the one that will have the most impact is the integrated memory controller, which boosts performance without increasing clock speed.

4. The Post-Greene VMware

With Diane Greene ousted from the VMware CEO's chair, former high-ranking Microsoft executive Paul Maritz took control and presented an ambitious road map at the 2008 VMworld conference that looks to make VMware a major force in the management of the entire data center, especially when it comes to building a cloud computing infrastructure that allocates resources depending on the needs of a company. Through virtualization, Maritz believes that VMware technology can manage and control every aspect of the data center, from the servers to the applications to the PC.

5. The Intel Atom

In 2008, Intel brought out two new chips with the intent of creating new markets for x86 microprocessors. The first Intel Atom is designed for mobile Internet devices, and the other Atom is for a new class of low-cost, portable notebooks that Intel calls "netbooks." While the mobile Internet devices have yet to take off in significant numbers, the netbook and, to an extent, the ultraportable notebook markets have taken off. While this helped carve out new markets for Intel, it came at the expense of older processors such as the Celeron.

6. Netbooks Take Off

With the coming of the Intel Atom chip, a number of vendors, from Asus to Dell to Hewlett-Packard to Lenovo, began producing low-cost netbooks and other ultraportable PCs. Although originally created for emerging markets, these laptops have made their way into mature markets such as Western Europe and the United States, which has boosted the PC market at a time when consumers and businesses are cutting back on purchases.

7: IBM Breaks a Petaflop

In June, IBM engineers announced that they had officially broke the petaflop barrier-one quadrillion calculations per second-in high-performance computing with the Roadrunner supercomputer. The Roadrunner system, which is installed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, uses a combination of IBM's own Cell processors and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron chips to surpass a petaflop of performance.

8: Solid-State Drives Come to Laptops

Starting with the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 laptop, PC vendors have tried to incorporate more solid-state drives into their notebooks, which allows these companies to create thinner, lighter and sturdier PCs. The drop in NAND prices also means that SSDs are becoming more standard with laptops as well as less expensive.

9: AMD Arrives at 45 Nanometers

AMD ended 2008 on an up note, although the company still looks to struggle against Intel in 2009. In November, AMD launched its 45-nanometer Opteron processor-Shanghai-which looks to erase the problems associated with the 65-nm version. AMD managed to get this chip out the door without any significant problems, and partners lined up to support the processor right at launch.

10: Tough Times at Sun Microsystems

Sun Microsystems ended the year with an announcement that it would eliminate some 6,000 jobs as the company looks to come to terms with slowing sales for its midrange and high-end server systems. While Sun has watched sales of x64 (x86-64 bit) servers hold steady, the company has not been able to reinvigorate its high-end systems. Sun, which sells a lot of hardware into the U.S. financial services market, has also been a victim of the global financial crisis that started on Wall Street.