IBM Takes the Cloud to the US Open

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-09-03

IBM Takes the Cloud to the US Open

NEW YORK - To help drive home its point that IBM is serious about cloud computing, Big Blue hosted an event at the US Open to show its cloud prowess in action.

IBM has long been a partner of the US Tennis Association (USTA) in handling all the IT operations behind the US Open and other Grand Slam tennis events. At a press event hosted by IBM at the US Open here on Aug. 31, Gordon Smith, the executive director and chief operating officer of the USTA, said, "IBM has been a USTA partner for 18 years. We've got the best technology partner on the planet bar none. We can't even begin to use the capacity IBM has provided us."

And given the elasticity afforded by cloud computing, Smith is right in so many ways, as IBM is bringing its cloud capability to the US Open operation.

Also at the event, Walt Braeger, vice president of cloud computing and Global Technology Services at IBM, laid out IBM's cloud computing strategy and reiterated IBM CEO Sam Palmisano's vision that the cloud will be a significant part of IBM's growth and focus through 2015. In fact, Braeger said IBM expects to see a boost in revenue of about $3 billion from cloud computing and related products and services.

In the case of the US Open, IBM provides a cloud computing capability that allows the USTA to scale up dramatically for the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. IBM rapidly creates and provisions services on a common infrastructure -- services that are mission-critical to the tennis tournament, Braeger said.

For instance, IBM takes an asset such as real time and historic sports data and leverages it using a common infrastructure to deploy services of all kinds to different consumers -- media organizations, tournament officials, the public, tennis players, etc. -- on different platforms, such as broadcast, Web, iPhone, Twitter and others.

"IBM has also added new services and new devices so that we can deliver these assets every year, all the while managing traffic growth and reducing costs such as energy, floor space and labor," said Jen Knecht French, a spokeswoman for IBM.

Rick Singer, vice president of sports marketing at IBM, said the cloud comes up as a component of IBM's larger Smarter Planet strategy, where IBM is looking to cash in on the emerging "instrumentation" of not only IT infrastructure, but the physical infrastructure of buildings, cities, cars, trains, planes, you name it. The world is becoming smarter and IBM is prepared to step in and tackle all the data being produced as a result of this smarter planet -- as IBM culls data from the myriad devices that instrument infrastructure as well as from the devices that make up everyday consumer technology. Not only is IBM equipped to handle the massive data requirements with its big hardware and storage systems, the company also is set to provide analysis through its predictive analytics technologies.

IBM has spent several billion dollars acquiring new analytics technologies, including $1.2 billion for SPSS and $4.9 billion for Cognos, among other deals. IBM also has acquired cloud computing companies including Cast Iron Systems and Sterling Commerce.

And as evidence of further use of its cloud and Smarter Planet strategy in action, at the US Open IBM culls and analyzes data from the Open radar guns, chair umpire system, court-side statistician (a Think-pad based system) and the broadcast TV feeds, among other things, IBM said.

However, Braeger said IBM has done two things the signaled its seriousness about the cloud. One was appointing a senior executive to oversee cloud computing, and the other was the company began a transformation effort starting inside IBM's own CIO's office. 

Delivering Vertical Cloud Solutions

Moreover, differentiating its strategy from that of some of the leaders in the cloud computing space, IBM is looking to deliver vertical cloud solutions. Braeger said the company is "looking at specific verticals" such as financial solutions, health care, telecommunications and others. "Name an industry and I don't think there's a use case we haven't thought about," he said.

But Braeger warned not to lump IBM in with the rest of the cloud computing pack.

"In many cases, clients are thinking about the cloud as a pure commodity offering; that's not what IBM wants to tackle," he said. "We're not necessarily looking for clients in the MIPS-are-us space." He said although the cloud can be a means of saving money, that is not enough on its own.

Rather, IBM is going after clients who are looking to make a business transformation via the cloud. IBM likes to work with "the ones looking for changing business processes," Braeger said. And often that includes services as well as IBM systems and software. Braeger used the example of IBM's CloudBurst appliance, which enables users to essentially put their cloud in a box. And that system has sold well, particularly in conjunction with IBM services engagements.

"There is absolutely a Global Services element to this [cloud strategy]," Braeger said. "There's a big part of the market that wants a deal including services," he added.

Indeed, Braeger said IBM is seeing "a stratification of buyers" in the cloud space, with some customers just kicking the tires or following up a pilot project and others in a more mature phase looking to branch out and experience the broader benefits of cloud computing.

For his part, Braeger also said he does not believe cloud computing is just old wine in new bottles or another name for hosted computing. The cloud differs from hosted computing in two key ways, he said. The cloud allows self-service access and it features elasticity or flexibility in the model.

Braeger also addressed the issue of the growth and proliferation of data-rich applications by the cloud creating the need for more data storage and data warehousing leading to data overload. Asked whether this could create a scenario where CIOs are going to have to grow their storage capacity at too rapid a rate for the cost of scale of the cloud, Braeger said IBM has adequate storage and systems solutions to handle data requirements. He also said IBM is attacking the problem through analytics. "We've got the largest math lab in the world working on algorithms" to eliminate the complexity of breaking down data, he said.

Moreover, Braeger said this presents an opportunity for IBM's partners. "I think the Smarter Planet -- where there are one trillion devices interconnected --
Is going to spin off opportunities for partners. For the enlightened ones, they will look at the cloud and analytics as two arrows in their quiver."

Meanwhile, Braeger told eWEEK he believes the "killer app" for the cloud is the development and test environment. IBM offers a Development and Test cloud for its customers.

"For CIOs that's the killer app, to use the term loosely," Braeger said. "If there is a killer app for the cloud it's the test cloud. The business cases for this are unbelievable. We're seeing a lot of uptake on this."

IBM is working with partners in cloud management, cloud security and software development and testing support to provide businesses with a unique mix of flexibility, scalability, enterprise-grade security and control for development and test on the IBM Cloud.  

The average enterprise devotes up to 50 percent of its entire technology infrastructure to development and test, but typically up to 90 percent of it remains idle, Braeger said. IBM has seen that taking advantage of cloud computing within development and testing environments can help reduce IT labor costs by 50 percent, improve quality and drastically reduce time to market.

IBM's Smart Business Development & Test on the IBM Cloud allows enterprise clients to expand on internal development and test efforts with instant access to resources through IBM's secure, scalable cloud delivery model, IBM software and application lifecycle management capabilities. IBM's enterprise-friendly approach to cloud complements clients' current data centers and traditional development efforts, helping clients:

  • Reduce provision cycle times from weeks to minutes
  • Eliminate software defects by up to 30 percent.
  • Reduce time required for test and quality assurance
  • Enable rapid redeployment of environments across multiple IT projects

"We've seen interest in this from our enterprise clients, our small and medium business clients, from partners, pretty much from everybody," Braeger said.

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