One of the things which has moved the idea of a micro data center forward is the underlying infrastructure on which it can run. People often think of servers as very specialized devices which limit the software. This can be true in some situations. For example, cloud computing tends to bring a number of restrictions with it. And many closed and proprietary platforms are specially tailored for only a few different architectures. But in general one of the amazing things about server software is that it’s usually quite portable.
Within the industry a general computing system tends to be known as turing compatible. This describes a basic infrastructure which processes computational requests in a predictable manner. Not predictable in a human sense, but in a mathematical one. A turing compatible device will always produce a specific response when given specific information and a request to process it. The methods by which it does so can vary. For example, a human who needs to get from point A to point B might get there in different ways. He or she might walk, run, bike or drive. The methods all come with different advantages and disadvantages. In the same way a turing compatible processor will get from point A to point B when given a specific equation. But the methods by which it does so can differ by architecture. Some processors favor speed, others efficiency, and others size. The amount of variables involved can go on and on. But the important thing to keep in mind is that traditional data centers have always favored speed. This tends to mean that other factors such as size will always be of the lowest possible spec due to the focus on a single thing in exclusion to all others.
And this is where the true beauty of the modern smartphone can be seen. It might not be a perfect drop in solution to most tasks. But they have pushed for a huge change in the way that manufacturers approach the development of parts that are a drop in replacement for the typical server architecture. For example, one can’t just drop in a smartphone to replace a server even if the basic software were fully compatible. But the basic ARM processors running on those phones might be a great drop in solution. But before the smartphone boom began there just wasn’t much motivation for companies to drop money into research for ARM processors. This kept their general progress at a far slower pace compared to other alternatives. But the fact that smartphones use them led to a huge boost in overall research for the chips. And this, in turn, means that companies with no direct connection to smartphones can reap the results. This of course means micro data centers.
ARM chips won’t always be the platform of choice. But the general philosophy there holds true. Use of turing compatible processors means that one can always use them as a drop in solution if there’s been a compatible software port to support it. And for the vast majority of server technologies there’s already been an emphasis on platform agnostic design. In fact, this too was one of the big pushes for smartphone technology that shows it’s a bit of a two way street. Smartphones were helped by the ease in which operating systems developed for servers could be repurposed for a mobile market. And in turn, servers have been helped by the fact that this has influenced the popularity of processors and other hardware components designed for phones. Which, again, have now been repurposed for use on servers.
This has all set up a perfect ecosystem where the parts involved with creating a smaller server system have had money and interest funneled into them even without use as a server. It’s a bit like having someone carefully tending a field and fertilizing it without actually planting the crops. It sets things up perfectly for someone to come in and make proper use of it for their own crops. And likewise the boom in hardware has created a situation where it perfectly matches the needs of a whole new industry. That of the micro data center. But with the infrastructure in place it still brings up the question of how it’ll be used.