Here’s an incredible, and telling, data point. In a talk yesterday, reports the Financial Times’ Richard Waters, the head of Microsoft Research, Rick Rashid, said that about 20 percent of all the server computers being sold in the world “are now being bought by a small handful of internet companies,” including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Amazon.
Recently, total worldwide server sales have been running at around 8 million units a year. That means that the cloud giants are gobbling up more than a million and a half servers annually. (What’s not clear is how Google fits into these numbers, since last I heard it was assembling its own servers rather than buying finished units.)
Waters says this about Rashid’s figure: “That is an amazing statistic, and certainly not one I’d heard before. And this is before cloud computing has really caught on in a big way.” What we’re seeing is the first stage of a rapid centralization of data-processing power – on a scale unimaginable before. At the same time, of course, the computing power at the edges, ie, in the devices that we all use, is also growing rapidly. An iPhone would have qualified as a supercomputer a few decades ago. But because the user devices draw much of their functionality (and data) from the Net, it’s the centralization trend that’s the key one in reshaping computing today.
Rashid also pointed out, according to Waters, that “every time there’s a transition to a new computer architecture, there’s a tendency simply to assume that existing applications will be carried over (ie, word processors in the cloud). But the new architecture actually makes possible many new applications that had never been thought of, and these are the ones that go on to define the next stage of computing.” The consolidation of server sales into the hands of just a few companies also portends a radical reshaping of the server industry, something already apparent in the vigorous attempts by hardware vendors to position themselves as suppliers to the cloud.