The “new normal” in the post-pandemic era has seen the meteoric rise of high-speed and high-bandwidth 5G applications, which subsequently brought about a corresponding increase in cloud services demand. As such, the global server shipment for 2021 will likely reach 13.6 million units, a 5.4% increase YoY. As commercial opportunities in white-box servers begin to emerge, Taiwanese ODMs, including Quanta, Wiwynn, and Foxconn are likely to benefit.
The prevailing business model of the server supply chain involves having the ODM responsible for the design, hardware installation, and assembly processes, after which servers are delivered to server brands (such as HPE, Dell, Inspur, and Lenovo), which then sell the servers to end-clients. In contrast, a new business model has recently started to emerge; this business model involves having server ODMs responsible for manufacturing specific and customized server hardware, available directly for purchase by such end-clients as cloud service providers, thereby bypassing brands as the middlemen.
With regards to market share, Foxconn accounts for nearly half of the total server demand from Microsoft Azure and from AWS, while Quanta accounts for about 60-65% of Facebook’s server demand.
According to TrendForce’s investigations, ODMs including Quanta, Inventec, Foxconn, Wiwynn, and QCT have all received server orders from clients in the cloud services sector in 1H21. In particular, both Quanta and Inventec received orders from Microsoft Azure, AWS, Facebook, and Google Cloud. With regards to market share, Foxconn accounts for nearly half of the total server demand from Microsoft Azure and from AWS, while Quanta accounts for about 60-65% of Facebook’s server demand, in turn giving Foxconn and Quanta the lion’s shares in the ODM market.
The aforementioned Taiwanese ODMs have been aggressive in growing their presence in the private industrial 5G network and edge computing markets, with Quanta subsidiary QCT being a good case in point as an ODM that supplies servers to both telecom operators and private industrial networks for these clients’ respective 5G infrastructures build-outs.
More specifically, QCT stated the following in a press release dated Jan. 4, 2021:
“Quanta Cloud Technology (QCT), a global data center solution provider, independently developed Taiwan’s first 5G standalone (SA) core network, which recently passed interoperability and performance verifications for 5G Open Network Lab operated by Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). The core network was successfully connected to partner radio access networks (RAN) and third-party user equipment, realizing end-to-end 5G signal transmission from edge to core and achieving significant acceleration in both uplink and downlink speeds.”
In response to the edge computing demand generated by global 5G commercialization efforts, Wiwynn recently released the EP100 server, which is a 5G edge computing solution compliant with the OCP openEDGE specification. Developed in collaboration with U.S.-based 5G software solutions provider Radisys, the EP100 can function as an O-DU or an O-CU depending on the various 5G RAN needs of telecom operators.
Furthermore, Wiwynn is continuing to develop the next generation of edge computing servers targeted at the enterprise networking and edge computing segments.
Foxconn, on the other hand, has been focusing on developing vertical solutions for private industrial 5G networks. Foxconn’s hardware infrastructure offerings include edge computing servers, TSN network switches, and gateways. The company also offers a slew of software solutions such as data management platforms and other apps, hosted by Asia Pacific Telecom. Last but not least, Foxconn recently announced an additional US$35.6 million investment in its Wisconsin project; this injection of capital will make the company well equipped to meet the demand for servers as well as 5G O-RAN and other telecom equipment.
Thanks to their flexible pricing schemes and diverse service offerings, CSPs have been a direct, major driver of enterprise demand for cloud services, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. As such, the rise of CSPs have in turn brought about a gradual shift in the prevailing business model of server supply chains from sales of traditional branded servers (that is, server OEMs) to ODM Direct sales instead.
Incidentally, the global public cloud market operates as an oligopoly dominated by North American companies including Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), which collectively possess an above-50% share in this market. More specifically, GCP and AWS are the most aggressive in their data center build-outs. Each of these two companies is expected to increase its server procurement by 25-30% YoY this year, followed closely by Azure.
TrendForce indicates that, in order to expand the presence of their respective ecosystems in the cloud services market, the aforementioned three CSPs have begun collaborating with various countries’ domestic CSPs and telecom operators in compliance with data residency and data sovereignty regulations. For instance, thanks to the accelerating data transformation efforts taking place in the APAC regions, Google is ramping up its supply chain strategies for 2021.
As part of Google’s efforts at building out and refreshing its data centers, not only is the company stocking up on more weeks’ worth of memory products, but it has also been increasing its server orders since 4Q20, in turn leading its ODM partners to expand their SMT capacities. As for AWS, the company has benefitted from activities driven by the post-pandemic new normal, including WFH and enterprise cloud migrations, both of which are major sources of data consumption for AWS’ public cloud.
Conversely, Microsoft Azure will adopt a relatively more cautious and conservative approach to server procurement, likely because the Ice Lake-based server platforms used to power Azure services have yet to enter mass production. In other words, only after these Ice Lake servers enter mass production will Microsoft likely ramp up its server procurement in 2H21, during which TrendForce expects Microsoft’s peak server demand to take place, resulting in a 10-15% YoY growth in server procurement for the entirety of 2021.
Finally, compared to its three competitors, Facebook will experience a relatively more stable growth in server procurement owing to two factors. First, the implementation of GDPR in the EU and the resultant data sovereignty implications mean that data gathered on EU residents are now subject to their respective country’s legal regulations, and therefore more servers are now required to keep up the domestic data processing and storage needs that arise from the GDPR. Secondly, most servers used by Facebook are custom spec’ed to the company’s requirements, and Facebook’s server needs are accordingly higher than its competitors’. As such, TrendForce forecasts a double-digit YoY growth in Facebook’s server procurement this year.
Chinese CSPs are limited in their pace of expansions, while Tencent stands out with a 10% YoY increase in server demand
On the other hand, Chinese CSPs are expected to be relatively weak in terms of server demand this year due to their relatively limited pace of expansion and service areas. Case in point, Alicloud is currently planning to procure the same volume of servers as it did last year, and the company will ramp up its server procurement going forward only after the Chinese government implements its new infrastructure policies. Tencent, which is the other dominant Chinese CSP, will benefit from increased commercial activities from domestic online service platforms, including JD, Meituan, and Kuaishou, and therefore experience a corresponding growth in its server colocation business.
Tencent’s demand for servers this year is expected to increase by about 10% YoY. Baidu will primarily focus on autonomous driving projects this year. There will be a slight YoY increase in Baidu’s server procurement for 2021, mostly thanks to its increased demand for roadside servers used in autonomous driving applications. Finally, with regards to Bytedance, its server procurement will undergo a 10-15% YoY decrease since it will look to adopt colocation services rather than run its own servers in the overseas markets due to its shrinking presence in those markets.
Looking ahead, TrendForce believes that as enterprise clients become more familiar with various cloud services and related technologies, the competition in the cloud market will no longer be confined within the traditional segments of computing, storage, and networking infrastructure. The major CSPs will pay greater attention to the emerging fields such as edge computing as well as the software-hardware integration for the related services.
With the commercialization of 5G services that is taking place worldwide, the concept of “cloud, edge, and device” will replace the current “cloud” framework. This means that cloud services will not be limited to software in the future because cloud service providers may also want to offer their branded hardware in order to make their solutions more comprehensive or all-encompassing. Hence, TrendForce expects hardware to be the next battleground for CSPs.
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