Wind of Change for Cloud Computing

Article By : Rick Merritt

It feels like the winds are shifting in cloud computing. Better bring your umbrella.

When both Intel and Nvidia said in their latest quarterly announcements that data center spending slowed a chill went down my spine. With smartphones slowing and the Internet of Things rising slower than once hoped, the cloud has been one of the largest and most steady drivers in tech.

To some extent the slowdown is the law of large numbers. More than a half dozen major hyperscalars have gone from nothing to global giants in the past decade. After years of breakneck expansions, growth likely will settle to single-digit rates going forward, veteran market watcher Linley Gwennap told me.

Prepare, but don’t panic. One hyperscalar alone has plans for 81 data centers it aims to fill in the next 18 months, some of them modest in size. Also, a group of second-tier players is emerging focused on specific cloud segments or geographies, Intel’s data center marketing manager Lisa Spelman told me.

Long term, AT&T and startups have been talking for some time about a new tier of the internet sometimes called carrier edge networks. It’s mainly Powerpoint today, but I get there’s a need to ensure good user experiences in part by providing local content-peering sites. Today, it’s anyone’s guess how and when these mini- and micro-datacenters will be built.

Meanwhile, AI shines a stronger ray of hope. The data center is hungry for performance on deep learning. For example, Google’s TPUv3 uses liquid cooling, upping the ante on the first gen that packed a very large chip on a 2.5-D substrate with very large memory.

Every data center vendor today is sprinkling their road maps liquid cooled systems, exotic chip packaging and other ways to pull out all the stops on performance as CMOS scaling slows. These techniques carry fat price tags.

The rub is hyperscalars are increasingly becoming their own chip vendors. Google’s TPU was followed by Baidu’s Kunlun. Late last year, Amazon announced plans for its own inference chip and service, and Facebook is ramping up a semiconductor team.

All those startups that snagged tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in VC money are crying as they hear their most desired dates say they are staying home to wash their hair tonight.

Just how much the data center may slow or make rather than buy remains to be seen. What’s certain is the outlook in cloud computing is getting increasingly cloudy. Grab your raincoat.

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