IBM: Returning to Historic Roots
The irony about IBM and cloud computing is that, as forward looking as the cloud trend is, it actually plays to IBMs historic strength.
In the 1960s, when IBM was the stand-alone monolith of technology, legions of users tapped into its hulking mainframes. This was the glory of centralized computing much like todays cloud vendors hope users will tap into central datacenters.
The moral of the story seems to be: stay in business long enough and your earliest trends eventually come back in style.
IBMs current entry in the cloud is Blue Cloud, unveiled in late 2007. Blue Cloud enables enterprises to run heavy-duty applications with deep databases over the Internet. The components include grid computing applications, virtualization tools Xen and IBMs own virtualization software PowerVM, open source distributed computing app Hadoop, and Tivoli, IBMs server management software. Its bulked up with plenty of IBM blade servers running Linux and/or IBMs system z mainframes.
Perhaps most potent, given the confusion around this emerging technology, in late 2008 IBM launched a consulting and implementation service for cloud computing, leveraging its longtime strength in IT consulting. The company is also expanding its cloud hardware backbone. In June 2008 the company announced cloud centers in South Africa and China, complementing its existing centers in Ireland and the Netherlands (an early client is the Vietnamese government). In other words, its ambition appears to be to employ a global network of cloud centers.
IBMs Blue Cloud generates less buzz than other vendors initiatives. That may be because, unlike the other competitors, it has no consumer-oriented offering. Or, more likely, IBMs big bucks enterprise customers are still getting used to the idea of the cloud. So far, many of the first brave cloud users have been small businesses and start-ups. For large enterprises, the cloud presents a trove of headaches. The potential pitfalls start with Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, continue on through security for sensitive data, and end up with the dark terror of system downtime a terrible thought for anyone managing a national supply chain. (And cloud vendors were plagued with significant service outages in 2008.)
I think IBM will have a potential play in the very large corporate world because I think thats where theyre going to be strongest, Greenbaum says. There are going to be companies like SAP and Oracle who are going to pick a cloud provider or two on which to host their own cloud services I dont believe that either of them is going to build the infrastructure to provide it.
Adds Bernstein: IBM is the natural for this kind of thing, thats their legacy, their heritage is time-shared computing. If anyone has the pedigree for this it would be them. Now whether they will is another question.
One strategic choice that may help: IBMs cloud plans are built on open source and open standards. Given that the cloud ethos is about interoperability between a vast labyrinth of networks and applications, its likely that open source will age better than a proprietary solution, particularly for a vendor with international partners.
With these open standards in mind, IBM has partnered with Google to provide university computer science students the open source development tools, hardware and services to turn out tomorrows cloud programmers. Reports indicate the two companies have pledged $30 million over two years to the program.
Indeed, IBM and Google appear to be having a bit of a love-fest when it comes to the cloud. (And perhaps in other areas; IBM processes accounts payable for Google.) IBM CEO Sam Palmisano told the New York Times the partnership works well because Google focuses on the consumer market while IBM is so corporate focused. Were more complementary than anything else, Palmisano told the newspaper. We dont really collide in the marketplace.
In May 2008 Palmisano and Google CEO Eric Schmidt appeared onstage at a conference in Los Angeles and announced that they would jointly develop a worldwide cloud network. Presumably the pieces each company has built singly will be included in this effort, but the exact nature of their collaboration hasnt been revealed. One possibility: Googles global network paired with IBMs traditional IT management skills.
Whatever the details, with two giants like this combining forces its probable theyll create an alliance that will profoundly shape the cloud, and theyll have as good a chance as any player to actually lead in the long term.
Heres a chart that provides an overall comparative look at the current vendors in cloud computing:
Go the page that describes a cloud vendor's strategy: