Steve Jobs was such a captivating promoter of inventions that his products reshaped our thinking, defining or redefining products we once thought we fully understood. At his best, Jobs was almost too good. If Picasso were God all fish would be flounders. But the computer industry, like nature, fosters diversity. Apple's smart clients, the iPhone and iPad, are iconic devices built around systems-on-a-chip (SoCs), but they are not the only important applications of this technology. Servers, too, can be made from compact, efficient, and inexpensive SoCs. And they will prove to be exceedingly disruptive.
Two examples that have been around for a year or two have been showcase developments for Marvell, the semiconductor company that bought Intel's ARM architecture processor business in 2006. Marvell donated a handful of circuit boards to a group that ported Linux to ARM and hosts its website on a small cluster of ARM blades that were built about 18 months ago. The other Marvell showcase application is a family of tiny home servers from Tonido that is now in its second generation. The original Tonido product, TonidoPlug, was the size of a phone charger; the current one is about the size of a sandwich. It's larger because it has space in it for a 2.5-inch hard drive in case users want to store very large libraries of personal files. Without the disk the server, including an Ubuntu Linux system, a stack of applications including an Apache web server, a WiFi hub, and USB port sells for under $200. Basically, Tonido or some other gizmo like it provides a nice home base for an iPad or rival tablet that is also reached via the Internet through a service supplied by Tonido.