SERVER FARMS IN THE CLOUDS

A whole new understanding of business computing

Almost all of IBM’s server business now comes from just four customers – Google, Microsoft, Tata and Amazon – these are the companies that dominate ownership of massive server farms which power business computing world-wide.

Between them they have made so-called ‘cloud computing’ a reality. There are now more than 40 million servers hosted by the four market leaders. Google alone is estimated to account for almost half this number.

Cooling the fire of billions of high performance silicon chips continues to be a challenge and companies like India’s Tata have none of their computers located in that hot country. Preference for cold localities to reduce energy costs has ensured that some of the world’s most remote regions are now at the center of the technological revolution.

In 2008, the US was the preferred location for almost 10,000 of these huge data centers. Today, more than half of the world’s server farms are in Canada and northern Russia. Some have even become part of the silent permafrost.

Often unmanned and unseen, these server farms provide the backbone to the world’s business operations, storing customer and transaction data; manufacturing and logistics applications; and consumer trend early warning systems.

For computer vendors this has been a channel revolution. Their customers are no longer the big banks and manufacturers. They now have to compete for the business of just four major players, at cut-throat prices.

Governments have typically been the last to move their computing into ‘the clouds’, often for security concerns.

Hong Kong and Taiwan have been the first to agree to do so – their computing is now done in ‘neutral’ Siberia – incurring a political risk by shunning the cold northern wastes of China.

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