Evan Bauer, CTO at the Collaborative Software Initiative (CSI), a long time IBM partner and beta tester, started using the Smart Business Development and Test service when it entered beta last fall.
"We went from our first core team meeting in September  to test users in January; that's a hell of a hurry," he said.
Bauer said that IBM had done a seamless job of walling his development team off from the nuts and bolts of systems administration and provided the illusion of seamless internal resources.
"We can su to root -- it's a nice clean handoff," he said, referring to the process of taking control of a Linux server remotely. He said that's a contrast to jockeying for shared root access on a regular virtual private server (VPS) in a managed services hosting environment or having to manage colocated hardware.
IBM's service was an easy fit for his company, which makes interdepartmental and interagency collaboration portals for enterprise and the federal government.
Bauer said that test and development of the CSI's latest project, a portal for the White House and local school systems and educators to interact directly, was his first project on the IBM service, but his application jumped right into production without leaving the IBM Cloud.
"Innovation.ed.gov is running on [the IBM Cloud] right now," he said.
It took minimal effort to promote application servers into production, nothing more than copying the virtual machine and assigning it to the appropriate IP addresses.
His story could have been told on Amazon Web Services three years ago, or any number of other public cloud environments lately.
IBM cashing in on its brand
Why is this important to the cloud market? Test and dev in the cloud is well known, and nothing IBM is offering, on paper, is all that new or exciting. So what is so special about IBM Cloud and the Smart Business Development and Test announcement?
One answer is the brand.
"Brand matters quite a bit," said Stephen O'Grady, analyst with Redmonk. IBM's customers turn to Big Blue for enterprise-class support and familiar systems, and for customers in CSI's bracket, public clouds remain foreign territory. They are looking for some degree of familiarity and accountability from their provider; the IBM name provides that.
IBM's brand "makes it awfully easy to talk to the CTO and the White House," said CSI's Bauer. He noted that he can cover issues ranging from security and reliability to federal contract certification simply by pointing to the IBM label.
"For a lot of the largest businesses, rightly or wrongly, IBM is seen as an imprimatur of success," said O'Grady. If IBM says it's doing cloud, that tells enterprises that the model is valid, and they might take a look.
IBM customers want agility in their IT more than they want to save money in cloud, O'Grady said. Many IBM customers are big enough to enjoy similar economies of scale to public cloud providers, but they're hidebound and mired in tradition and that makes a move to cloud computing tough.
"When you talk to big businesses, they lament that getting any infrastructure at all, even for test and dev, can take months," he said. It's not likely to come cheap with the IBM label either.
Expected costs? IBM isn't exactly saying
IBM did not provide pricing details on the services, but they are expected to be in line with traditional service offerings from Big Blue. Translation: IBM's offering will be more expensive than Amazon and Rackspace services and perhaps not even truly a pay-as-you-go model. Bauer said CSI can and does reserve compute capacity ahead of time, but asked about a dollar figure, only said: "It's cost-effective."
O'Grady said that IBM expects that IBM Cloud will be a profitable exercise as it matures. With the investment IBM has made both in technology and messaging, IBM is clearly serious about the effort.
Big Blue still has to contend with a market that moves very fast. Amazon Web Services has reportedly launched more than 23 million servers to date, and other service providers of every stop have jumped into cloud computing. IBM may need a long runway to get off the ground, but it clearly has an audience.
Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer at SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.