How Intel Plans to Destroy the Legacy Data Center

These days, and with the help of Cisco and EMC, Intel is dipping its toes into the networking and storage ends of the enterprise technology pool. Add this to Intel's server expertise and the data center of the future may be at hand.

By Rob Enderle
Fri, July 26, 2013

CIO — Earlier this week, Intel discussed its plans to forever change the data center as we know it.

Intel, a core technology maker, is now aggressively moving from servers into networking and storage and partnering with segment leaders such as Cisco Systems and EMC along the way. This could make the near future rather interesting.

Think RAID, But With Cheap Processors

For a while, I was convinced that Intel wouldn't catch this wave. Years ago, Microsoft began an initiative to rethink the data center as kind of a modular server. Applying a RAID-like concept to low-cost processors stood at the center of this effort. Replacing the "D" in RAID with a "P" would give any CMO a heart attack, so the concept never got a catchy name—but, on paper, it was poised to reduce computing costs dramatically.

Data Center Architecture

Intel didn't like that Microsoft was using Atom processors for this and asked Microsoft to stop, assuming the folks in Redmond would switch to Core or, even better, Xeon. Microsoft, thinking Intel missed the "inexpensive" part of the concept, instead moved to ARM. Rather than prevent a move to a lower-margin product, Intel effectively promoted a move to a product that gave it no margins.

Intel, to its credit, eventually came around and has been working furiously to create a high-efficiency platform based on Atom. Companies such as Facebook are flocking to it; they say it provides the best capacity, lowest operating costs and highest efficiency for Internet service loads. (Internet services are still the fastest-growing opportunity for this class of device.)

Intel now reports that it leads the industry in performance per watt and optimization, which has let it get the most design wins and broadest software support—though on this last point, it certainly helps that x86 still dominates low-end, high-volume servers. That's a pretty impressive turnaround.

Rather Than Beat Intel, Cisco Joins 'Em

I first became aware of Intel's efforts to reduce networking costs, meanwhile, at an Intel Labs event years ago that showcased a technology called "Data Bricks." This was designed to cut the cost of large-scale routers, and I thought it would put Cisco out of business. Cisco was apparently smarter than I was. Instead of ignoring or fighting Intel, the companies partnered—and Cisco may be a big beneficiary of this switch, rather than a casualty.

Related: Intel Lays Foundations for SDN Gear That Could Shake Up Networking

Intel now says its solution leads the industry in performance per watt per dollar, cost-effective network security and, since Intel tends to use a modular approach, on-demand scalability. These are all critical parts of a network technology competitive review, and they place Intel at the center of a market where it wasn't even a player before.

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