Intel’s Diane Bryant Blazing Trail From Data Centers to Next Era of IT

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She walked me through the tech trends of each subsequent decade:

The ‘90s, she says, were computer-centric; they were about technology deployment and automation—making systems go from manual to computerized (think PCs). The 2000s were network-centric; they were about connections and the rise of the Internet and cloud. The present decade is what she calls “human-centric” and “service oriented.” Now tech companies are “using IT to deliver services directly,” she says, through advances in cloud computing, big data, and high-performance computing.

What’s more, the overall role of information technology has changed radically, she says. Bryant would know; she oversaw Intel’s IT organization as chief information officer for about four years before moving to her current post in early 2012. “IT used to support the business. Now IT is the business,” she says.

A look at the server-chip market trends is pretty instructive. Intel’s sales to big Web companies—what Bryant calls “public cloud service providers” like Google, Facebook, and Amazon—are growing at an annual clip of 25 percent, she says. That’s much stronger growth than in Intel’s more traditional market segments, such as enterprise IT (Oracle, HP, IBM, Dell), which is at 8 percent, and telecom service providers, which is at 12 to 15 percent. (High-performance computing is another growth area, mostly for government customers, at about 20 percent.)

The trend suggests where IT resources as a whole are flowing—to more Web and consumer-facing businesses, at the expense of more traditional IT providers. “Everyone has to shift their business model or suffer,” Bryant says.

So what are the biggest issues Intel is dealing with now?

One is energy efficiency. A lot has been made of the power requirements of data centers—something like 25 percent of the total operating cost of a data center is electricity, and much of that goes into cooling down hardware. Bryant asserts that Intel’s transistors “run at better energy efficiency than any other.” No doubt its competitors would differ, but at least in server chips, Intel says it has gotten the power requirements of its Atom line (lower performance) down below 6 watts, and its Xeon line (higher performance) down to about 13 watts.

Intel has also been working with Facebook to redefine and standardize data-center equipment at the server-rack level. As part of Facebook’s Open Compute Project, the companies have developed a reference design that tries to eliminate redundant pieces of hardware in a given server rack by aggregating different pieces of processing, storage, and networking in a more efficient way. (That won’t make vendors like Cisco or EMC happy, but if done right it could lead to more efficient data centers.)

Another big issue these days is cybersecurity. … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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