Microsoft, IBM Sketch Cloud Computing Plans

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It's going to be standing room only in the cloud pretty soon — everybody who's anybody in the tech world seems to be heading up there.

Hot on the heels of VMware's announcement of its Virtual Datacenter OS, which is intended to make it easy for companies to transfer their applications to resources in the cloud, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, promised a new cloud offering from Redmond.

"We need a new operating system designed for the cloud, and we will introduce one in about four weeks," Ballmer said to an audience of IT professionals meeting in London last week.

He referred to the operating system as "Windows Cloud," although its official name will be revealed at the end of October. He added that the new OS will look a lot like Windows server OSes in the same way that the server OSes look like their desktop counterparts.

Whatever Windows Cloud ends up being called, it is not clear yet what it will do: Presumably, it will be a platform for applications run in the cloud, providing the services they need to ensure they are scalable, fault tolerant, geoclusterable, and so on. Or maybe not. Until it condenses into Windows Cloud it's still vaporware.

Not to be outdone by VMware's and Microsoft's announcements about the C word, IBM got in on the act on Monday, announcing that it too was heading, in part at least, for the same destination.

"We are moving our clients, the industry and even IBM itself to have a mixture of data and applications that live in the data center and in the cloud," Willy Chiu, IBM's vice president of high performance on demand solutions, said in a statement.

IBM's plans include offering services from the cloud — including a corporate social networking service called Bluehouse and a Web conferencing service called SameTime Unyte — providing cloud hosting services, and helping ISVs and customers to build and use cloud services.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about it all. Richard Stallman, creator of the GNU software project, thinks cloud-based applications are as bad as the proprietary software (such as Microsoft's) that he has dedicated his life to opposing.

"One reason you should not use Web applications to do your computing is that you lose control," he said in an interview published in London's Guardian newspaper. "It's just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else's Web server, you're defenseless. You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software."

Others, like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, profess not to know what "the cloud" really means. "Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?" the Wall Street Journal quotes him as saying at an analyst meeting.

It all feels like 1995 all over again: you know, around the time when Bill Gates sent his famous "Internet Tidal Wave" memo to employees decreeing that the Internet was critical to every part of Microsoft's business. I have a feeling we're going to be hearing a lot more about cloud computing in the coming months, but often it will be used simply as a marketing term.

Ellison sums it all up rather nicely: "We'll make cloud computing announcements. I'm not going to fight this thing. But I don't understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud computing other than change the wording of some of our ads."

Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

This article was first published on ServerWatch.com.

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