The future belongs to the young and nimble

With enormous sunk cost in legacy technology, big business is slipping further behind the technology edge

Last week's blade server shoot-out -- an InfoWorld Test Center comparison of Westmere blades from Dell, HP, and IBM -- provides yet another object lesson on the narrowing gap between the technology available to small businesses and large enterprises. Even the control system we used to provide a baseline, the Supermicro SuperBlade, is perfectly adequate for many small businesses, with a shockingly low base configuration of $2,581 (including two blades).

You can even argue that the most interesting tech innovation today now targets small business rather than large enterprises.

[ See InfoWorld's 2010 blade shoot-out with the top blade servers from Dell, HP, and IBM, all outfitted with Intel's brand-spanking-new Westmere chip. | For the latest on cloud computing, see David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog. ]

As Amazon distinguished engineer James Hamilton once noted, the power density of blade servers often fails to fit into the architecture of big data centers, and that's not the only advanced technology large enterprises have trouble digesting. The three basic varieties of cloud services, SaaS (software as a service), PaaS (platform as a service), and IaaS (infrastructure as a service), have all found more favor in small, nimble businesses rather than in big companies where control is top of mind. And open source software, which has become a hotbed of innovation, often has trouble penetrating large enterprises due to commercial software lock-in and paranoia about the legal and security risks of open source solutions.

A little over a year ago, Dave Rosenberg, the former CEO of an open source software company, wrote a great article for InfoWorld entitled "Cloud computing to the max." His company used cloud service provider Contegix for all application development, Rackspace for Web server infrastructure, Salesforce for CRM, Amazon S3 for product downloads, and (after trying multiple solutions) Google Apps Premier Enterprise for e-mail and collaborative documents.

His conclusion: "Based on my experience over the last two years, I estimate that companies can easily offload 50 to 100 percent of their needs to cloud-based services with minimal business impact and near zero risk." Not surprisingly, Rosenberg says that cloud services don't make the cut for applications that require high performance with low latency (Westmere blades, anyone?), but that he would absolutely go deep into the cloud again for his next startup.

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