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Sun warns of voracious, collapsing data centers

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Sun Microsystems loves to think ten years ahead of the market. Such technology philosophizing is natural for a research and development heavy. As of late, however, Sun has started to claim that its grand vision of computing's future will start to take hold not in the next decade but rather next year.

During 2008, Sun expects to see the full-on arrival of what it calls RedShift applications. These are the types of software jobs that require more gains in processing power than Moore's Law can provide.

At the moment, the high performance computing (HPC) set come to mind as the most obvious RedShifters. These folks turn to massive clusters and all manner of accelerators to obtain huge speedups in application performance. In most cases, the HPC customers must place an emphasis on writing parallelized software that can spread across many systems well and/or tweak their software for the specialized accelerators to realize the performance gains they desire.

The software work done by the customers and vendors gets around the end of the GHz boosting era. Coders can no longer count on Intel, AMD and others to crank up the clocks on their chips but must instead find a way to take advantage of the extra cores being added to each new generation of processors.

Another class of RedShifters comes from the software-as-a-service set. You can think of companies such as Amazon, eBay and Google/YouTube in this group.

More than Moore

Looking at Google, for example, and you find a company that ignores Moore's Law as we've come to know it. Google uses rather slow chips to power its core services. The ad broker, however, makes up for underwhelming individual horsepower per server by linking thousands of servers together and writing code that can tap into these cores well.

According to Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos, 2008 will mark the first time that RedShift type companies start to consume the majority of available compute cycles.

This is a very forward thinking position to take. It means that more attention and money will go toward building new, massive scale services rather than contracting BlueShift services such as, say, payroll.

To support the RedShift era, companies will start building data centers that defy belief, according to Sun.

We're talking about 50,000 sq. ft, 5,000kW centers now and 500,000 sq. ft, 50,000kW centers over the next ten years.

But, again, Sun is talking about the now rather than the next ten years and predicts that at least one organization - perhaps a government lab - will begin work on a 500,000 sq. ft data center in 2008.

In addition, Sun VP Subodh Bapat warned that 2008 will bring a data center failure of unprecedented scale, causing not only tremendous pains for users but also possible "national security issues." So, there's that to look forward to, as our data centers reach enormous proportions.

The rather comical bit about Sun's predictions is that the company spends so much time thinking about these things but fails to demonstrate any business around the ideas to the public.

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