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IBM jumps into cloud, customers tiptoe behind

James Niccolai, IDG News Service | April 7, 2011
In announcing its cloud computing services on Thursday, IBM stressed repeatedly that private clouds -- or those that exist behind the corporate firewall -- are as important to its strategy as those in the public realm.

The SmartCloud services aren't entirely new -- IBM has offered them on a custom basis for some time. But it's the first time they are being widely offered as a listed product with a fixed menu of options, said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive in charge of IBM's software division.

Pricing wasn't immediately available, but some published reports said the basic Enterprise service is comparable in price to Amazon Web Services, or a little more expensive.

They service will compete with those from Hewlett-Packard, among others, which made its own cloud pitch last month. But while HP hasn't said when its offerings will appear, IBM said its Enterprise service is available now worldwide, and Enterprise Plus will follow later this year.

IBM is also offering the products behind the services as a hardware and software package that companies can deploy in their own data centers. It includes numerous Tivoli and Systems Director products, including Tivoli Service Automation Manager and Tivoli Provisioning Manager for Images.

Public and private clouds are "equally valid," Mills said. "There's nothing about the attributes that you can't implement inside a business," including provisioning new apps in a standard, automated fashion across a pool of virtual computing resources.

The biggest challenge for enterprises will be management, according to IBM, in particular the proliferation of virtual machines and software images. It hopes to distinguish itself from other cloud providers by the level of security and management it says it can offer.

"We see the proliferation of images happening at a rate that makes the proliferation of Intel machines look like it was happening in slow motion," said Robert LeBlanc, IBM senior vice president for middleware.

IBM officials played down the suggestion that they will be competing more directly with partners, such as telecommunications providers, who have been offering their own cloud software based on IBM software. Such "coopetition" is normal in the industry, Mills said.

Although ING isn't using a public cloud, it is deploying "utility" applications such as social media tools on a private cloud, Kerrison said. It has a mix of x86 and IBM Power systems, and the company uses IBM's Tivoli software to abstract the hardware underneath and manage all the servers "at a higher level," he said.

The ITIL best practices for IT are geared towards physical infrastructure, Kerrison noted, so ING has developed its own processes to ensure software stacks in its cloud are as standardized as possible. That makes them easier to manage, and also helps with software development lifecycles, he said: "Developers are clear when new stack releases are coming out. We treat our stacks really like a software release," he said.

 

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