How 'Hyperscalers' are Innovating — and Competing — in the Data Center

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Innovation in the data center has been constrained by the traditional model of suppliers providing fixed-function chips that limit how much the biggest data center operators can differentiate. But programmable chips have emerged that allow these companies to not only increase performance, but innovate throughout the pipeline, from operating system to networking interface to user application.

This is a major trend among "hyperscalers," which are some of the world’s most well known companies running massive data centers with tens of thousands of servers. We’re talking about companies like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Alibaba, Tencent.

To talk about the trends in data centers and how software may be “eating the world of the data center,” we talked this summer to two experts. Martin Casado is an a16z general partner focused on enterprise investing. Before that he was a pioneer in the software-defined networking movement and the cofounder of Nicira, which was acquired by VMWare. (Martin has written frequently on infrastructure and data-center issues and has appeared on many a16z podcasts on these topics.)

He’s joined by Nick McKeown, a Stanford professor of computer science who has founded multiple companies (and was Martin’s cofounder at Nicira) and has worked with hyperscalers to innovate within their data centers. After this podcast was recorded, Nick was appointed Senior Vice President and General Manager of a new Intel organization, the Network and Edge Group.

We begin with Nick, talking about the sheer scale of data-center traffic.

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