The global recession is forcing enterprises to take closer looks at data center technology that under normal economic circumstances they might have gotten around to later.
Greg Papadopoulos, CTO and executive vice president of research and development at Sun Microsystems, said in an interview that IT administrators who normally might have put off investigating such technologies as cloud computing and open-source software are now are looking at them as necessary tools as budgets are cut and demands on IT grow.
“In any other time, people may say, -Yeah, I’ll check out [cloud computing] in a year or so,'” Papadopoulos said. “They might decide to look into it later. But the [current] economy acts like an accelerant. It’s like dropping napalm.”
Papadopoulos, who oversees Sun’s $2 billion R&D program, will be the keynote speaker March 10 at the Data Center World show in Las Vegas. The show runs March 8-12.
Both he and Jill Eckhaus, CEO of AFCOM, the data center association hosting the show, said the economy has been a driving force behind much of the activity in the data center for a number of years. That’s been amplified since the recession kicked into full gear in the fall.
In an interview, Eckhaus said AFCOM surveyed many of its 4,300 in May 2008 about the impact of the economy, and then again in November 2008. She said that in the earlier survey, 11.9 percent of respondents were being asked to cut their data center budgets; the number grew to 15.2 percent in November.
Also in the later survey, 86.2 percent said they expected to increase their use of virtualization in hopes of reducing what they spend on new servers, a change from three to five years ago, when most were dubious about using virtualization.
“The economy changed some of the trends, and virtualization was one of those trends,” Eckhaus said.
Cloud Computing Will Follow Suit
She and Papadopoulos expect cloud computing to follow suit. Like virtualization several years ago, cloud computing holds the promise of enabling data center administrators to reduce costs while increasing efficiency. At the same time, those administrators need to get a clearer understanding of what cloud computing entails, something Papadopoulos and Eckhaus hope they get at the Data Center World show. Eckhaus said that in AFCOM’s surveys, 77.3 percent of respondents said they were not planning on incorporating cloud computing into their data centers, which she said was an indication that many are unsure what it is.
Papadopoulos said Sun has been moving in this direction for more than six years, since the release of its Sun Grid initiative, in which customers essentially could run compute resources at an hourly rate. Programs like that have since morphed into the current cloud computing push.
“Grids have become clouds,” he said.
There has been confusion among IT administrators about the definition of cloud computing, in large part because there are really three aspects to it, Papadopoulos said. The two most are familiar with are infrastructure as a service-where businesses access compute power over the Internet-and SAAS (software as a service), where enterprises get applications through a browser.
There also is the growing PAAS (platform as a service) area, embodied by such technologies as Microsoft’s Azure offering and Google’s App Engine.
In addition, there is confusion about public clouds and private, internal clouds, and how they relate to one another. Companies like Sun, VMware and Elastra already are working on ways to bridge the two, and Papadopoulos said he envisions the eventual rise of the “intercloud.” Just like the Internet is a network of networks, the intercloud will be a network of public and private clouds.
Other technologies gaining interest in light of the struggling economy include open-source software and green IT, Papadopoulos and Eckhaus said. Like cloud computing and virtualization, it comes down to saving money.
Open-source software enables enterprises to reduce money spent on costly software licensing, and Papadopoulos pointed to Sun’s push over the years to open source its software-from Solaris to Java-as well as initiatives such as its Open Storage program as dovetailing with this demand.
He also said that while Sun, like many other vendors, is taking its hit with the current economy, the company is seeing strong demand for such cost-saving technologies as its open-source software and CMT (chip multithreading) offerings. In the last fiscal quarter, Sun posted a net loss of $209 million, but saw revenues in its CMT systems grow 31 percent, and Open Storage and total software categories grow 21 percent each.