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Data centre infrastructure spending still growing as cloud providers keep buying

Data centre infrastructure spending still growing as cloud providers keep buying

ODMs lead the way as public cloud nears 50 per cent of data centre hardware spend.

Credit: Dreamstime

Public cloud providers are quickly becoming the biggest buyers of data centre infrastructure equipment, as purchasing of hardware and software both rebounded sharply in 2021, according to a recent report by Synergy Research Group.

Overall spending grew by roughly 10 per cent in year-on-year terms, reaching a total of US$185 billion in 2021. The lion’s share of that spending was on hardware, according to Synergy, with 77 per cent of the total spend going towards servers, storage and networking gear. Software, including operating systems, cloud management, virtualisation and network security, made up the rest of the total.

That $185 billion top-line number represents a substantial increase over 2020’s total, which clocked in at a little over $160 billion. 

The majority of the new spending was driven by heavier investments by public cloud providers, whose spending share rose 20 per cent year-over-year, compared to just a three per cent rise in enterprises (non-service- or cloud-providers) spending money on their own data centres in the same time period.

Equipment manufacturers selling directly to cloud providers accounted for the largest chunk of sales in that market segment, with Dell, Microsoft and Inspur all roughly tied for second place in public cloud sales. Microsoft and Dell took the top spot for enterprise sales, followed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Cisco, VMware and IBM.

“The biggest story is the ever-increasing share of the market that is accounted for by sales to public cloud providers, who now account for almost half of all spending on data centre gear,” said Synergy chief analyst John Dinsdale. “We forecast that these trends will continue over the next five years, with double-digit annual growth in sales to cloud providers helping to offset a somewhat flat enterprise market.”

Synergy’s report adds weight to predictions made by other analysts, who have been predicting sharp growth in data centre capex for cloud hyperscalers like Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud in recent months. 

One forecast from the Dell’Oro Group, made in February, suggested that the cloud providers could push those total capex numbers as high as $350 billion by 2026.

However, those estimates are predicated on the enterprise data centre market remaining steady, if not growing slightly, in order to balance out the gains made by the cloud sector.

According to Baron Fung, a research director at Dell’Oro, there are several reasons to think that the enterprise sector will, indeed, remain robust. 

Whether it’s regulatory concerns in some industries and geographies preventing certain companies from legally moving some types of data into the public cloud, organisational inertia keeping important applications on-premises, or the economics of self-hosting particularly large amounts of data, the in-house data centre should remain a critical part of the market for the foreseeable future.


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