One server is required to support every 600 smartphones, according to Allyson Klein, the director of leadership marketing within Intel's data centre group, Tablets are more demanding, she says, with a ratio of one server per 120 tablets. Klein describes this as a new economic model for computing.
The point is that much smartphone and tablet usage isn't self-contained. Sure, the song playing in your headphones may be stored on the device, but it's increasingly likely that it's streaming from a server somewhere in the world. Video files are even larger and you're less likely to play them more than once, so streaming makes even more sense. And you'll probably want a higher-resolution version on a tablet than a smartphone: more bits means more work for the server delivering the content, which means more servers.
Then there are the various location-aware services that many of us use as a matter of course. It's unlikely - but not out of the question - that the device will do anything with its location other than sending it to a server in order to receive location-dependent information such as a map, a special offer from a nearby restaurant or merchant, or the whereabouts of a nearby friend.
You'll probably want a larger or more detailed map on a tablet's bigger screen, and once again that means more work for the server. In the corporate context, many organisations are uncomfortable about business data of any kind being stored on mobile devices. So rather than keeping contacts, emails and calendar events on a phone in case they are required, the data is increasingly accessed on-demand from a server.
And while it's possible to run a virtual desktop on a smartphone, you're more likely to do that on a tablet. This quickly became a common practice among techies who realised they could carry out certain maintenance and support tasks from practically anywhere without having to lug a notebook around with them, but there's a growing number of people remotely accessing business applications from their iPads or Android tablets, and Avneesh Saxena, group vice president, domain research at IDC Asia-Pacific, believes the idea of streaming applications to mobile devices via virtualisation is part of the future of corporate IT.
Klein's point is that the cloud can provide the link between your mobile devices (whether that 'your' refers to an individual or an organisation) and the compute power needed for more demanding tasks. You don't want - or need - your phone to be able to do all the processing you may need, she says. But different classes of device have different intensities of use and call for different amounts of data. For example, an app designed for the iPad isn't exactly the same as one designed for the iPhone, and the iPad app may well use richer content.
So whether you're taking the BYOD route to mobility (and a new Citrix survey shows that nine out of 10 Australian IT decisionmakers know employee-owned devices are in use at their organisations, and almost 40 per cent of those already have formal BYOD policies) or still insisting on company-owned devices, be sure to factor the potential server load into your plans.
Stephen Withers spoke to Klein and Saxena at Intel's Asia-Pacific Cloud Summit in Penang, which he attended as the guest of the company.