People from at least one generation still alive today have known personal computers all of their lives. From the glory days of the Commodore 64 to heated battles between Microsoft and Apple, the PC has defined the technological age. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, some would argue that the PC’s supremacy has begun to wane, both in consumer and business markets.
At least one analyst predicts that the PC market will steadily decline by at least five percent each year over the next four years. In 2012, PC vendors shipped around 370 million traditional x86 PCs, including desktops and laptops. In contrast 780 million post-PC devices, such as smartphones and tablets, shipped in 2012. Companies such as Dell that once relied on PC sales for the bulk of their revenue must now branch out into other technology. Some are finding their pot of gold in software-led infrastructure (SLI).
In the past, the data center was driven by hardware. Each physical server often had a single primary responsibility. Today’s data centers are moving to a more software-centric model where virtualization is pervasive throughout networking, storage, and compute technologies. Software will control the data centers of the future, not hardware.
Companies that once relied on PC sales: from the desktop vendors, such as HP, down to the chip makers, such as Intel, are now undergoing a fundamental shift in the way they approach business.
Both chip makers and PC vendors depend on Microsoft, which delivers the operating system and productivity software for the large bulk of PCs that ship to consumers and businesses. Wikibon predicts that the declining PC sales and failure to capture a secure a foothold in the mobile device markets will eventually lead Microsoft to abandon both PC and tablet development in favor of its data center software business.
It will no longer matter what type of platform the client is using, as Microsoft will eventually open up its software to multiple platforms. The PC will no longer be the default client for server infrastructure making it crucial for those in the server business to accommodate a wide range of devices and platforms. Virtualization will no longer be a luxury; it will be a necessity.
SLI Will Change the Game
SLI will introduce a more standardized open source-based coordination of the data center, encompassing servers, storage, and networking. A central, software-driving management system will be the epicenter for all SLI activity.
SLI will introduce pervasive virtualization, software-defined networking (SDN), unified metadata, solid-state high-performance storage that is distributed, and intelligent data management systems. The benefits to this approach will be a reduction in overall IT infrastructure cost, a decoupling of vendors and hardware – replaced with software-centric solutions, a more comprehensive governing of SLA, business value creation, and a higher level of flexibility to meet fast-changing markets and trends.
SLI in the Post-PC World
The PC is not completely dead. For high-end business applications, PCs will continue to be relevant and necessary, at least for the foreseeable future. As businesses continue to transition to BYOD (bring your own device) models and demand cross-platform, rapidly-deployed software that is both flexible yet powerful, the servers that supply the software must be diverse in their responsibilities and yet centrally managed and seamlessly integrated.
A system that might have once required four large powerful mainframes may now run within four virtual machines on a single server and can also interact with storage and networking infrastructure without human intervention. The end-user result is a mobile, flexible system that simply works.