IBM's SmartCloud: What Does It Mean for Potential Users?

So what makes SmartCloud for Business different from anything else IBM has offered previously? It's all about a self-service menu of choices.

SAN FRANCISCO - As strange as it seems, IBM had not made available a public-cloud service offering for production purposes until it launched its SmartCloud for Business on April 7 at a cloud forum here at the Westin St. Francis.

That's right. You couldn't swipe a credit card and obtain an IBM cloud service for any sort of production purpose until now.

Let's look at the history of this for a minute. Even though IBM has had its own internal cloud-service network for several years and has provided hardware, software and services for others to build any type of cloud system, it didn't actually institute a cloud-computing division until February 2009, three years after the term "cloud" became the biggest IT buzzword since "downsizing."

Prior to February 2009, potential IBM customers looking to build or refurbish a data center with cloudware had to start with IBM Global Services and work their way through that formidable bureaucracy to get something going.

From 2009 to the present day, IBM's cloudmeisters have been focused on building customized private and hybrid-type cloud systems, primarily for large enterprises.

Pre-configured, Menu-Driven Stack

Now it's April 2011, and Big Blue's product offerings have expanded with SmartCloud, an enterprise-class, secure cloud offering with a pre-configured, menu-driven stack. See eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl Taft's story for details on the offering.

So what makes SmartCloud for Business different from anything else IBM has offered previously, and what does this mean for customers? It is true that all the ingredients to do this have been in Big Blue warehouses, in Global Services brochures, in the IBM Blue Cloud or available through partnerships for a long time.

"We've had this as 'custom' for years and years," Steve Mills, IBM's Senior Vice President in charge of software and systems, said in an answer to a question from eWEEK. "We have not had this kind of menu-driven production environment until now.

"This now really gives them [users] self-service, which is incremental and different from what they have had from us before."

There is a caveat: IBM had been providing some customers with self-service cloud capabilities for various types of development configurations, Mills said. "But we weren't ready [until now] to give them self-service for standing up the production applications. They now have that," he said.

Five Main Areas of Choice

The now-ready-for-prime-time SmartCloud menu includes five main areas of choice: IT platforms, management support/deployment, security, availability/performance and payment/billing. You can select whatever software/services you want, as long as it's an IBM product that runs on WebSphere, because that's the foundation for the whole thing.

This isn't a best-of-breed deal; this is an IBM-only cloud system. Once the menu items are on the plate, they stay in the configuration until further notice.

"What this means to a service provider is that you can actually commit to an outcome," IBM's Senior Vice President for Global Technology Services Erich Clementi told eWEEK. "Why? Because I have pre-engineered it. If you do it custom, you have to reinvent the wheel every time."

Examples of services that can be used in a SmartCloud deployment include IBM's Cast Iron, which integrates cloud services with individual enterprise business processes to create hybrid clouds; Tivoli Live, which offers high-level service management; and LotusLive, a collaboration suite that includes Web conferencing, instant messaging, social networking and project tracking.

There is a lengthy list of other "menu" options.

IBM did not indicate any limitations on the size and scope of new SmartCloud implementations. Because the early-adopter beta users were large companies, such as Kaiser Permanente (health care) and ING (insurance and financial services), the odds are that this will find faster adoption in the Fortune 2000 than in the midrange market-at least at the outset.

IBM didn't offer any pricing information at this time.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...