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Custom Server Chip Designs Driven by Cloud Computing

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

Processor chips for servers used to be a fairly standardized, mass-market product. Customers could specify features such as clock speeds and processing cores, but these were variations on a standard theme.

Now, thanks to the cloud computing giants, all this is changing. Chip makers are offering custom server chip designs to optimize specific performance characteristics sought by individual cloud providers.

What does this mean for midsize IT? Midsize firms do not buy servers on a scale that would encourage chip makers to offer such custom designs, but they are increasingly calling on cloud services, which makes them major ultimate end users of the custom chips that manufacturers are designing for the cloud. 


Optimization Deep Within the Cloud

As Drew Turney reports at ZDNet, the cloud computing era is not just changing the way software, storage capacity and other resources are provided to users; cloud technology is also transforming the world of computer hardware as software takes on more tasks and becomes more closely integrated with hardware. In particular, the largest cloud vendors are increasingly using customized chips in the servers of their own data centers.

The trend towards custom server chip designs is being driven by two related factors: the sheer buying power of big cloud providers and the scale of the workloads in which cloud services engage. The combination means that these big customers are willing to invest in chips optimized for their specific requirements.

Says one industry observer, Martin van Ryswyk of DataStax, software is driving the process. "Even big cloud operators are relying more on software to scale services." 


Because Everything Is in the Cloud Now

The direct market for this new generation of custom server chip designs is so far limited to the largest cloud providers that can most benefit from even subtle optimizations. As the variety of customized server chips grows, and chip makers offer them to customers, some midsize firms will undoubtedly buy customized chips for their own on-site data centers.

However, the primary impact of this technology trend on midsize IT will be within the cloud itself. In the contemporary era, cloud computing is becoming the primary way for business customers of all sizes, including midsize firms, to access computing resources of all sorts, including storage and end-user services as well as infrastructure.

The local data center is not going to disappear. Security and regulatory compliance considerations mean that there will always be a place for local server capacity, especially in security-sensitive industries such as financial services or health care.

In most other cases, though, midsize IT will increasingly be calling on cloud resources — and tapping into the enhanced capabilities of custom server chip designs that the cloud ecosystem have made viable. 


This post was written by Rick Robinson.

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