Corporations Without IT Departments Could Be The Future: IBM

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Taken to its logical extreme, IBM's view of the future of enterprise computing could mean a world where corporations no longer have IT departments.

IBM Grid Computing General Manager Tom Hawk doesn't necessarily think it will get to that point - some companies may always prefer having in-house expertise - but IBM is moving in a direction that could make that possible.

With stated goals of autonomic computing and self-healing technologies, IBM's goal is to make it so clients "don't have to think about" where their compute power comes from or how it works, Hawk said.

Hawk made his comments both in a keynote address to the first Grid Computing Planet Conference & Expo in San Jose on June 17 and in an interview with Grid Computing Planet.

IBM's vision is to make compute power like electricity: customers don't need to think about where it comes from, as long as it's there when they plug into an outlet. Hawk cited the example of Ford Motor Co., which a century ago ran its own power plants. When electricity became more dependable, Ford sold those plants and got out of the utility business. Computational infrastructure could develop in much the same way, Hawk said.

'Overwhelmed By Complexity'

Despite the lofty vision, IBM's rationale is grounded in business necessity. More than 60% of IT budgets are dedicated to maintenance and integration - a percentage that Hawk says continues to rise - so the need to reduce complexity and management demands is a pressing one. "Customers are overwhelmed by the complexity," he said.

And IBM has dedicated tremendous resources to solving the problem. Grid computing is one of only three technologies that Big Blue has completely redirected the company to embrace, the others being the Internet and Linux. Hawk estimates that IBM has 5,000-6,000 employees working on Grid technologies, and others working on related technologies.

While others at the conference estimated that Grid computing over the Internet - the utility model - is 5-10 years away, Hawk cautioned attendees that "it's coming much faster than people think." The Internet has shortened each new technology cycle dramatically, Hawk said, and IBM views Grid computing as the next stage in the evolution of the Internet.

Hawk, who became general manager for Grid computing after 12 years working in systems integration, said telecom companies have seized on Grid technology as a potential growth area, calling them "huge early adopters."

IBM has approached Grid computing in a collaborative way, working with the open source Globus Project on the Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA) protocols, a vision for the convergence of Grid computing and Web services. Big Blue has partnered with leading private Grid companies such as Platform Computing, Avaki, Entropia and United Devices on technologies such as aggregation of compute cycles, data Grid technology, resiliency, and on-demand computing (the utility model).

But while IBM's smaller partners have focused on enterprise Grids within firewalls and across virtual private networks, Big Blue has its sights set on the Internet. As one example of Grid's potential over the Internet, Hawk said the recently announced collaboration with online video game company Butterfly.net has resulted in about 1,000 downloads a week of the developer's toolkit.

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