Software Beckons Small-Cloud Computing

The history of computer science points to miniaturization, and cloud computing is next, according to Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey.

By Tom Mangan

By Tom Mangan February 11, 2020

Hardware made the cloud big. Software will make the cloud small — and get computing power closer to the people who need it.

That’s the scene in Dheeraj Pandey’s crystal ball. Pandey is CEO of Nutanix, whose company pioneered hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and is now moving into hybrid cloud computing, allowing IT leaders to transform traditional data centers into enterprise-cloud like data systems. He notes that about 200 immense data centers serve the cloud computing requirements of the entire planet.

That’s a yawning gap between users and technology.

“Right now, the hyperscale data center is a $1 billion facility,” Pandey said. Cloud data centers got so big because they helped to centralize processing and storage while enabling pervasive mobile access. Anybody with a smartphone and cell service can get to their data almost anywhere. Users can scale up and down depending on demand. Customers pay as they go, renting instead of buying, often letting somebody else keep the software up to date.

But technologies like 5G wireless and innovations in edge computing are poised to upend this centralized model — enabling powerful real-time computing to be located wherever it’s needed. Pandey said the dispersion of computing means applications can live where they’re used most. This could remove the latency inherent in systems that rely on streaming applications from central locations.

Innovations like hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) already combine storage, computing and networking into a single system. This reduces data center complexity and increases scalability, according to Network World. HCI also makes data centers more efficient, flexible, simpler to manage and more cloud-like than older systems.

By 2023, 70% of enterprises will be running some form of HCI, up from less than 30% in 2019, according to Gartner’s 2019 Magic Quadrant for Hyperconverged Infrastructure report.

As new enterprise cloud technologies like Nutanix Clusters become available, companies can more easily run applications in their own data centers or in the public cloud. Combined, these innovations allow scalable data centers that are close to the action, where applications are used most, without being so gigantic.

“Most of the time in computer science, we’re miniaturizing things,” Pandey said.

[Related article: Future of Cloud Computing Will Shatter into Smaller Things]

Vacuum tubes gave way to transistors, which gave way to integrated circuits. Mainframes paved the way for personal computers. Smartphones begat smartwatches. Cameras, microphones and GPS sensors moved from dedicated devices to chips on technology platforms. Software pulls it all together.

As Pandey sees it, the technology pendulum will swing, once more, from concentration to dispersion.

“How do you disperse computing to where the people are, where the data is, where the machines are?” Pandey asked. “That’s only going to happen when you atomize these $1 billion facilities into much, much smaller data centers.”

A conventional server rack is about 6 feet tall. A conventional cloud data center has hundreds or thousands of these racks in facilities covering hundreds of thousands of square feet.

How small can a cloud architecture go?

“Half a rack,” Pandey predicted.

He’s talking about moving clouds from data centers the size of a football field into 3-foot stacks of computing gear. He points to other times when this shrinking has happened. Microsoft used software and generic PCs to take computing out of the mainframe and disperse it among the population. Google put Android software on billions of smartphones using standard platforms.  

Virtualization will be central to the half-stack cloud. Software-defined networking and storage will rely on standardized computing hardware.

“We’ll still have general-purpose capabilities, just like we saw with smartphones, while apps will provide single-purpose capabilities,” Pandey said. 

That’s the essence of hyperconverged infrastructure: clouds don’t have to be cooped up in billion-dollar data centers anymore. The quickening pace of innovation is already shrinking and dispersing computing resources. Will the data center go the way of the smartphone?

Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.

© 2020 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved.  For additional legal information, please go here.