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Summary:

Quite a bit of news emerged from the cloud computing and data center markets during the fourth quarter, but the full impact of announcements — from companies including Cisco, Vmware, EMC, Microsoft, and Oracle — won’t be felt until 2010. Here’s a look at what to expect.

Looking back at the past three months of data center and cloud computing news, what’s striking is not so much what happened, but what will happen. As I outline in the latest Quarterly Wrap-up for GigaOM Pro (sub. required), there were plenty of major announcements and big happenings, to be sure, but many won’t materialize until later this year. When they do, the results could alter their respective landscapes significantly.

Data Center Shape-shifting

Of all the infrastructure trends during the fourth quarter, the biggest may have been the changing shape of the data center market. Once comprised of separate vendors for separate functions, the space is now is full of cross-component partnerships and alliances, most notably that of Cisco, VMware and EMC. The three formed their Virtual Computing Environment alliance to peddle the jointly developed Vblock solution, and Cisco and EMC finally launched their long-awaited joint venture, Acadia. Reactions to this trifecta included alliances between and among competitive vendors like Microsoft, NetApp, Dell, Fujitsu and others.

Microsoft Azure Wows With What Might Be

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In the cloud space, the soft launch of Microsoft Windows Azure had the cloud community and prospective customers alike discussing -– with much anticipation -– the merits of a platform and associated features that won’t be publicly available until later in 2010. Likewise, Amazon Web Services’ introduction of Spot Instances for EC2 sparked much discussion about the possibility of a free market for cloud computing instances. The requisite pieces for such a system aren’t yet in place, but many think it’s now just a matter of time until it materializes.

Oracle Cleared Final Hurdle to Sun Buy

In the ongoing saga that is Oracle’s acquisition of Sun Microsystems, the fourth quarter brought the first signs of progress since the deal was announced in April. Oracle laid out a list of concessions that seemingly allayed European Commission concerns over the future of MySQL, which has been the primary obstacle in clearing the purchase. Despite MySQL creator Monty Widenius’s late campaign to free the popular open-source database from Oracle’s clutches, the EC approved the deal yesterday.

Green Shoots in Q4 Financials

Economic recovery in the IT sector seemed likely when third-quarter results were announced in October, with IT vendors across the board reporting higher revenues and other results that beat Wall Street’s estimates. Additionally, the server market, fresh off the worst quarter since the 1990s, showed quarterly revenue gains for the first time in a year, and VC funding was up 16 percent from the second quarter. Collective demand for computing resources also kept the data center market expanding through the fourth quarter, spurring M&A activity and driving up stock prices.

The Downsides

The fourth quarter was not great for everybody, however. Intel was hit with two lawsuits — one by the State of New York and one by the FTC — and settled its existing litigation with AMD for $1.25 billion. And every company associated with “the cloud” suffered a black eye as a result of Microsoft and T-Mobile losing Sidekick users’ personal data. Although the data ultimately was recovered, the incident garnered much media attention and resulted in a class-action lawsuit against the companies involved.

A more in-depth look at these trends and others is available in the latest Quarterly Wrap-up from GigaOM Pro. Get the scoop on last quarter’s happenings in our five focus areas — NewNet, Mobile, Green IT, Connected Consumer and Infrastructure — along with dozens of detailed research briefings and in-depth articles on specific topics in each of these areas. You can subscribe here.

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