Intel and Cloud Computing: Enabling Innovation and Accelerating the Transformation

Today is a big day for Intel, as we announced a major effort to enable next generation data centers for cloud computing. The topic of cloud computing is generating a ton of industry announcements, which is understandable given the once in a decade shift that cloud represents. Intel’s announcements are unique in the breadth of participation of the industry, as well as our support for a stronger voice of the customer. We announced our advisory role in the newly formed Open Data Center Alliance, a group of over 50 companies representing over $40B of IT spending who are committed to driving an interoperable, multi-vendor approach to the next generation data center. We also announced a dramatic expansion of our Cloud Builders program, with 20 different reference architectures from the leading providers of technology for cloud computing. All of this is in the context of our vision – a cloud that is federated, automated, and client-aware.

The announcement begs the question of what Intel is trying to achieve. After all, we are a key technology ingredient rather than a full provider of solutions, so addressing the challenges of the cloud is beyond our ability to impact alone. The Open Data Center Alliance is committed to multi-vendor solutions, including at the processor level, so our assistance to the group does not gain us a specific advantage. Let me shed some light on our motivation. First, we believe that cloud computing is still quite nascent. I enjoyed this posting, which highlights the risk of overstating the impact of cloud short term, while painting a good target. Our primary goal is to work with the industry to accelerate the cloud architecture transition.  Second, we are strong proponents of the model that has driven innovation and cost advantages in the standard high volume server market. This is a model where competition exists at every horizontal layer of the solution, and customers can select best of breed each generation. Here is a very thoughtful assessment of the vendor lock-in considerations in the shift to cloud. Our goal is to drive standards and implementations that enable differentiation, while limiting lock-in over several generations.

We don’t expect that our assistance to the Open Data Center Alliance, nor our collaboration with industry partners in the Cloud Builders program, will fundamentally change the end state of cloud computing. Rather, we’re focused on accelerating the outcome that would naturally evolve. A good analogy is the growth of WiFi. Back in 2002 the technology was expensive and the access to WiFi hotspots was quite rare. We were on a trajectory to see wireless adoption in notebooks occur at a glacial pace. Intel launched the Intel® Centrino® processor technology based on wireless networking standards, but augmented the product with a broad effort to enable WiFi hotspots and to improve the user experience linking to the hotspots. Net result, we saw wireless go from single digit percentage adoption to 90% penetration in three short years. Did we create WiFi? Of course not. Did we accelerate the benefits users wanted anyway by coalescing the industry of OEMs and service providers? You bet. We hope to have a similar effect on the data center.

The question of why we believe cloud computing is good for Intel is fodder for a future blog. A prominent analyst recently suggested that in just a few years the boom of the Intel server market would be a fading memory due in part to cloud computing. Throughout the history of the computing industry, we’ve had prognostications of an end to the innovation cycle. Meanwhile, we’ve seen the cost of computing drop, computing resources become ever more democratized, and new uses continually defy the imagination (or lack thereof) of the cynics. If both our products and our engagement with partners and customers drive an environment where computing is more capable and more accessible, our business results will take care of themselves.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – are you worried about interoperability, or more comfortable with a fully integrated solution?  Do you think cloud is all about reducing the footprint and investment required for IT, or are you excited by the new possibilities cloud computing creates?