When it comes to data center expertise, many tech professionals would say that Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and yes, Facebook are driving most of innovation. These companies design much of the hardware and software that they run in their own massive data centers.
There's no arguing with that perception, but make no mistake: The big cloud players don't have a monopoly on data center disruption, according to Al Sadowski, research vice president for 451 Research. Instead, a raft of other, smaller players are doing their bit to make data centers more efficient, more adaptable, and easier to manage.
That's important to remember, because while many corporate applications are moving to a public cloud like Amazon (amzn) Web Services or Microsoft (msft) Azure, we are still early in the cloud era and many businesses still want to control their own infrastructure for some jobs.
Sadowski cites the work that Equinix (eqix) is doing with its home-grown data center management software. This software gives customers a view into how their workloads are operating and the physical conditions at the various Equinix facilities. Equinix operates about 179 data centers around the world used by many customers.
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But there are other interesting infrastructure plays out there. Backblaze is a feisty startup that made waves by claiming to store customers' archival data storage data cheaper than any of the name-brand cloud providers. (Anecdotal accounts from customers back that up.) The company builds its own storage hardware to facilitate that and has even made the design specifications available to anyone who wants to build their own.
The San Mateo, Calif. company launched its B2 storage service a year ago, and many are impressed. Because Backblaze specializes in data backup, it has a set usage pattern which lets it tailor its offering for that sort of work, says Sebastian Stadil, CEO of Scalr, a San Francisco cloud monitoring company.The newer B2 service, however, can be used for any sort of storage, Backblaze CEO Gleb Budman told Fortune.
Cloud storage provider Dropbox is also innovating. Up until last year, Dropbox user data had resided in Amazon's cloud. But is now in Dropbox data centers in the U.S. Last week the company said it is rolling out a worldwide private network and load balancers of its own to speed file access for the 75% of its half-billion users living outside the U.S. (Dropbox still uses AWS data centers in countries that mandate that user data stay local.)
Most of us know Netflix (nflx) as the leader in streaming video. But the company has also made a name for itself among techies for a building a set of key software tools that help it run on AWS more efficiently. Netflix itself finished its transition to AWS servers last year, and has made a practice of filling gaps in those services with its own software, which is available on Github, a sort of library for freely available software.
LinkedIn earns mention—even though it is now owned by Microsoft—because it still seems to be pursuing its own data center agenda. It is, for example, backing the Open19 Foundation, a group that is pushing companies to build a new generation of data center hardware that will fit into existing data center racks.
As my colleague Jonathan Vanian wrote last month, businesses use the racks to house their servers and routers. Since that gear tends to be stacked one atop the other, its important to have a standard rack for those devices. Complicating matters is that another standard from the Open Compute Foundation, backed by Facebook (fb), Google (goog), as well as LinkedIn parent Microsoft, is about building larger servers which will not fit into that mold.
As Yuval Bashar, LinkedIn principal engineer and president of Open19 told Fortune, the Open Compute Foundation may be great for the biggest of the big web companies like Google but is less applicable for the many smaller businesses that still run their own data centers.
Note: (June 30, 2017 8:23 p.m. ET) This story was updated to add Backblaze comment.