Others make a lot of noise in the cloud, but IBM is sneaking in under the radar.
IBM's moves into cloud computing have
been strategically brilliant because of the tremendous risks the cloud poses to
the company's traditional server, software and services business.
"Cloud" means different things to different people and
organizations. Google and Yahoo host all of their software and services on the
Internet, making them Web-centric cloud players. Microsoft is pursuing its
software-plus-services strategy, tying customers' desktop software to Web-based
Customers don't need a great deal of data center hardware to leverage
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft cloud services, but IBM
is a different bird. IBM has dabbled in the
cloud in a careful way, offering software and hardware combinations that do not
cannibalize its existing server and services businesses.
The company's iDataPlex server, introduced April 23,
is essentially a
server unit tailored for Web-based computing. On April 28, IBM unveiled cloud-based storage services.
How did IBM get to this point and where
is it going to go in the cloud?
Dennis Quan, chief technology officer of high-performance on-demand
solutions at IBM, told eWEEK that IBM
entered the cloud internally with its IBM
Innovation Portal a few years ago, allowing the company's 355,000 users to access
computer resources more quickly instead of having to buy physical hardware.
This approach allowed IBM to
"incubate new innovations and let users give feedback" on them, Quan
said. Some 20 percent of the projects created in the portal influenced IBM's
products, allowing IBM to shift its cloud
focus into the market.
In December 2006, IBM struck an agreement
with Google on cloud computing, and in late 2007 it built out three cloud computing
centers, leveraging IBM Tivoli management
software and Google's MapReduce parallel computing model on 1,000 servers.
IBM lets students use this gear and the
centers as their playgrounds for parallel computing. This appears altruistic on
the surface, but it's ingenious. It means the future university students who
embark on this program will be versed in use of IBM
and Google gear instead of Microsoft Windows and Live.
IBM then announced Blue Cloud in November 2007,
discussing ways it would commercialize these assets and turn them into hardware
and software. This will require a lot of virtualization technology, and some
customer rollouts are taking place in Ireland
and in China.
To recap: IBM's cloud moves began
internally, spread to universities and are now leaking their way into the
mainstream in products such as the company's new iDataPlex.