Big data would not be possible without big infrastructure to support it -- and big infrastructure increasingly means the cloud. Virtualized storage and virtualized computing are proving themselves to be effective and highly flexible alternatives to the bricks and mortar of on-premises data centers. This view is a step forward from even a year ago, when clouds were seen primarily as a match for developer tasks, such as testing and debugging -- still the lead use case for clouds among many enterprises.
Now the cloud is emerging as a good platform for running large-scale analysis without requiring a commensurate investment in hardware. The cloud's attractive features (low op-ex rather than cap-ex, transparent backup and redundant systems, instant capacity expansion, and ease-of-use) will no doubt continue to draw new adherents.
Virtualization and multicore Virtualization -- the key enabler of the cloud -- can place considerable stress on processors, which is one of the reasons that CPUs today contain dedicated circuitry to reduce the software overhead of virtualization operations. In addition, the profusion of cores on new CPUs allows virtualization platforms to host many virtual machines without compromising performance.
This year's award-winning CPUs -- the 12-core AMD Opteron Magny-Cours and the 8-core Intel Xeon Nehalem-EX -- both provide superior performance when many tasks are running in parallel. AMD's Magny-Cours offers the best price/performance for highly concurrent workloads, while Intel's Nehalem-EX targets high-capacity SMP servers with RAS (Reliability, Availability, Serviceability) features previously found only in mainframes, RISC/Unix servers, and Itanium.
We fully expect the march toward more cores to continue. Many-core processors, combined with denser RAM configurations, all hooked up to high-capacity NICs (multiple 10Gb Ethernet adapters) are the basis of future in-house, "private" clouds.
[ Read about the winning hardware, software, and development tools in our slideshow, "InfoWorld's 2011 Technology of the Year Award winners." ]