World only needs seven computers

Sun chief technology officer Greg Papadopoulo thinks there will just seven hyperscale, pan-global broadband computing services giants.


IBM founder Thomas J. Watson couldn't add up: it was seven computers the world would need, not five. That's the contrarian view of Sun chief technology officer Greg Papadopoulos. He thinks there will just seven hyperscale, pan-global broadband computing services giants.

They will deliver computing as a service on a likely wholesale basis which smaller businesses will sub-divide, parcel up and retail to their customers. The seven hyperscale providers will be Google, Microsoft Live, Yahoo!, Amazon, eBay, and the Great Computer of China - which could be laid out linearly and be visible from space!

He thinks the computing business tomorrow will look like the energy business today: a few global behemoths; fifty to a hundred regional and national concerns and then wildcatters and specialists.

A big computer for Sun's Papa Dop is not just a few standard CPUs + RAM + SW. It's millions of servers, storage and networking nodes organised into a vast distributed cluster and functioning as a single machine. Each cluster may have 5,000 nodes.

Papadopoulos is extrapolating trends he sees now. Salesforce and Google are buying thousands of servers a year and their business volumes are growing extraordinarily fast. The efficiencies of scale they are getting mean that they have an astonishing abundance of storage capacity and server mips. On a per transaction basis mips are effectively free and Google can afford to offer GB of free storage to people because the advertising clicks are paying for it. It's a super-economy of scale.

Building these systems and supplying components will become the business of a very few dominant suppliers. Think Airbus and Boeing for civil aircraft jetliners,"Ericsson, Nortel, Lucent/Alcatel, Nokia for telecom," etc.

This is because engineering for hyperscale computing is unique and can't be done by lashing gazillions of cheap servers together. Power plants are not built from piles of cheap portable generators. Ergo it's going to need a Sun, an IBM, an HP, to build the hyperscale clustered blade farms that Google's peers are going to need.

He wishes. Google seems to be building its own Intel-based infrastructure exactly by lashing cheap processors together in its own way. It's a place where Papa Dop's Sun doesn't shine.

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