IBM Cloud Guru Erich Clementi Looks Back at IT History to Gauge Its Future

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-11-19

IBM Cloud Guru Erich Clementi Looks Back at IT History to Gauge Its Future

There's more than a little irony in the fact that Erich Clementi, the man charged with looking into the future and identifying strategic initiatives for IBM, made his considerable reputation largely by looking back and rebuilding a part of Big Blue that's truly old school: its mainframe business.

From 2003 through 2005, Clementi helped lead the resurgence of the revamped IBM mainframe as general manager of the System z division. When obituaries were being written about the demise of the mainframe in the early part of this decade, Clementi and his team went off to rethink and redesign the old-fashioned Big Hunk computer.

They were successful. Today, more than 40 percent of all data centers still have at least one mainframe, according to a recent survey by AFCOM, the data center industry group. Most of those are built by IBM.

His job completed there, Clementi has reversed directions and ventured out to the cutting edge by directing Big Blue's fast-growing cloud computing initiative. Again, Clementi is looking back at where IT has been in order to know where it's going in the future.

IBM's Blue Cloud and CloudBurst are huge projects that involve the whole company. How does one person with so many responsibilities, who coordinates so many moving parts of such a large multinational corporation, focus his energies most effectively and read the road signs correctly?

"How do you do this at IBM? Frankly, you do this by integrating IBM," Clementi told eWEEK. "This industry has a tendency to go through a wave of disintegration, where you compete around storage, you compete around software, you compete around 'gotchas.' From time to time, complexity comes back to be integrated, and integration gives you a simpler consumption model, which is what people like."

Ironically, Clementi does not like to use the term "cloud computing," preferring to describe the new wave of computing on demand via the Web as just that: a new wave of computing, via the Web.

"The fact that people cannot see how this [new computing model] comes about has made this metaphor of this thing being 'behind a cloud' so powerful," Clementi said.

Integrating IBM First Is Job One

What does Clementi mean by "integrating IBM"?

"Let's take an example-say data analytics," Clementi said. "Let's say you allow all your employees to go through 100 data marts autonomously by self-serving. They go and ask a question, and they get an answer-they get some form of data back. In the background, to implement this model, you have to virtualize the system, you have to standardize the queries, you have to automate the whole management-otherwise you don't reach the cost point that makes this possible."

By integrating, Clementi said, you need to have the usual-suspect ingredients-software, hardware capability, process understanding-and deliver this in an outcome.

"Compare that to what many of our competitors offer," Clementi said. "If they say, 'This is all about virtualization,' it's not true. It is not just about virtualization. If I have only virtualization software, I'm going to say it's all about virtualization because it draws attention to me.

"If I give you all your physical complexity, and today I virtualize that complexity, I just have a virtualized mess. You need virtualization, but then you need standardization, you need automation-and you need to engineer the whole thing."

Clementi offered a metaphor that most people can easily understand.

"Take the ATMs," Clementi said. "We just take our card and go to the ATM. Do you ever know what happens behind that ATM? You know nothing. You just know that there's money coming out.

"Compare that to how it was before. Originally, you had a bank teller. You went to the bank teller and asked for money. Now that bank teller, in reality, didn't just give you money. He was the built-in security system because he knew you. He was the record-keeper because he kept the books. He was the cash handler, so he did the whole supply chain.

"So when you took that bank teller away and put that machine in, it forced you to standardize all these process steps of security, identification, cash replenishment and record-keeping. So the whole supply chain was standardized. Then, when you took your Chase card to Wells Fargo, it forced the two banks to standardize messaging between them because otherwise they couldn't give you the money."

So now banks have a standardized transaction platform that is used millions of times each day.

"How is this different from, say, the way Henry Ford moved the production process from islands to the conveyor belt?" Clementi asked, rhetorically. "It is engineering applied to IT-supported processes. So this is very profound. This kind of standardization and automation is what gives you the new economics."

Cloud computing has the promise of better economics, "and that is the very reason why, using the cloud, you can do computing in a smarter planet, where the volumes you have to face are orders of magnitude bigger," Clementi said.

If you tried to do all the things the cloud now offers, you couldn't do it for cost reasons, Clementi said. "That's why we are pretty excited about this," he said.

IBMs Cloud Approach Versus Cisco-EMC-VMware


IBM and Hewlett-Packard are two of the few companies in the world-in fact, they might be the only two-where a customer can go and find just about everything he or she needs to build a private cloud system: hardware, software, storage, a management platform and all the services to go with it.

Now they have some competition from a new coalition of individually powerful companies that want in on the coming cloud-building bonanza: Cisco Systems, EMC and VMware-along with chip maker Intel, which sells to just about everybody anyway.

This group of cloud partners revealed Nov. 3 that they have formed a new joint venture, the Virtual Computing Environment, to produce cloud computing systems called vBlocks that integrate hardware and software from all three companies.

The coalition-along with Intel-also announced that it is starting up a new, shared-equity company called Acadia to handle the specifics of marketing the new vBlock systems.

vBlocks are preintegrated, preconfigured computing systems consisting of networkware from Cisco, storage/security/system management from EMC and virtualization software from VMware. The resulting cloud computing systems will range in size from hundreds of virtual machines to more than 6,000 virtual machines, depending upon the need of the customer.

IBM's response? "The fact that they need to build a partnership is a confirmation that there is a lack of integration and of complexity reduction," Clementi said. "This kind of confirms that they are trying to match, or to complete, the capability [that IBM owns].

"Here is what I believe is most important: We say cloud computing is going to be applicable to a vast majority of workloads. First, it will be workload dependent. Secondly, we say this all about service management; then we say we need to give our customers choice in deployment," Clementi said.

Then, in matching this approach back to Cisco-EMC-VMware's, Clementi compared this to innovation emanating from the consumer market.

"This model comes from the consumer world. We all Google, we Shutterfly, we tweet, we do all kinds of stuff," Clementi said. "You would feel comfortable with your e-mail out there, but you would feel less comfortable with your banking records out there. So there are requirements for enterprise workloads that will determine which workload goes where."

Can a coalition of disparate companies put together a cohesive cloud system for customers that works and will be secure from cyber-attacks and other problems? Certainly this is possible. Can such a partnership provide the tightest engineering for workload efficiency? That remains to be seen, Clementi said.

Looking Back at Evolution of the Web

Clementi offered another example.

"Think about in the '90s when the Web came around. The Web has been there before, honestly, and it really didn't explode. You didn't like to do FTPs for file transfers and ping around in IP commands like that; what you liked was when the browser came around-Mozaic. What was the browser, except for a simpler way of consuming," Clementi said.

At first, people didn't do transactions on the Web-all they did was content, or information, Clementi said. Eventually, the push by economics to do transactions like banking and trading remotely led to the creation of intranets, improved authentication and encrypted messaging.

"Just as we did back then, the requirements will lead to changes in IT," Clementi said. "If the workload is highly critical, if it has compliance requirements and security requirements, you will implement that model inside the firewall because it's more efficient. Everything that can be standardized can be taken from the outside. So we have an intranet and an Internet; we will have private clouds and public clouds."

So IBM, HP, the Cisco coalition and a large number of smaller companies are jumping on this trend and investing tons of people, time and capital into this new wave of computing, by which individuals and companies can either consume existing services over the Web or provide the same for their own customers and supply chain through their own cloud system.

Putting all this together-workload dependency, service management, customer choice-into a cloud-type system is what IBM is striving for, Clementi said.

This is not just about virtualization, software or hardware alone, Clementi said.

"If you follow the notion that it's about applying engineering discipline to IT-supported services, then you need to have all of these capabilities [that IBM already has]. Second, if you believe that Smarter Planet is all about the convergence of digital infrastructure with physical infrastructure, then you need a way to manage all kinds of infrastructure in your supply chain," Clementi said.

Clementi offered the smart grid as an example of how all this automation works.

"The way it is now, the power company in your area reads your meter once a month, then they bill you," Clementi said. "Tomorrow, using smart meters, PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric, in California] will measure your power usage once every 10 minutes.

"When you measure usage once every 10 minutes instead of once per month, and then you multiply by 20 million or 40 million users, you realize that first, you're going to deal with completely different amounts of data; second, think about when this meter is so smart that you can start controlling it, automate it, shut off devices and steer the entire grid. Think of all the efficiency possibilities.

"So you can see where cloud computing is the IT for a smarter planet. That's our view. And if you want to do that, you have to have that kind of software and process capability that we have invested in."

Comparing IBM's menu of software, services and management to that of the Cisco coalition's, Clementi said he thinks IBM has a broader base "because we also have the services capability to do this. I would admit to you that we are not as good in consumer kind of computing, like many other of the cloud actors. We are an enterprise-focused company, and we are going to stay focused there."

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