We'll be everything to every cloud, says IBM

As a cautious tolerance for cloud computing spreads among IT shops, IBM's validation and new suite of services may drive cloud into the enterprise.

LAS VEGAS -- Customers are cautiously accepting of IBM's message around cloud computing: It's a small but relevant part of IT delivery, and the model is more important than the technology.

Fifty percent of Fortune 10 and Fortune 50 companies are working with [IBM], mostly on private clouds.

Robert LeBlanc, SVP of middleware for the Software Group at IBM

The company revealed a sweeping new strategy in a series of news releases this week at the IBM Impact conference, along with several announcements last week, that point to its embrace of cloud.

It launched the private cloud Workload Deployer appliance (formerly CloudBurst) and the public Smart Business Cloud – Enterprise. The announcements also include drastically modified availability and pricing for IBM software, an "on-demand" licensing model for WebSphere and DB2, and a new version of IBM's Business Process Manager that Phil Gilbert, IBM's BPM platform chief, compared to iTunes and credited cloud as one of its foundations.

"Cloud is not nirvana, but it's going to be a very important delivery capability," said Robert LeBlanc, SVP of middleware for the Software Group at IBM. He said the opening of IBM's Smart Business Cloud infrastructure services was one arm of IBM's strategy to meet the demand for complex, user-friendly services with constrained IT budgets.

He said that IBM recognized the widely accepted Infrastructure as a Service/Platform as a Service/Software as a Service cloud models and was also sponsoring a standards body, the Cloud Standards Customer Council, to help push for standards around application programming interfaces (APIs), virtualization and security.

LeBlanc added that it was early days for cloud computing, but IBM was convinced it was the future. "Fifty percent of Fortune 10 and Fortune 50 companies are working with us, mostly on private clouds," he added. "It's really important to understand the scope of this."

Analyzing cloud computing adoption
Widespread adoption of cloud computing remains low, and some in the audience pointed to the maturity of cloud as a roadblock. Larry Decker, a senior product specialist at Sirius Computer Solutions, said the draw of online services like Salesforce.com was undeniable but remained very much in a 'safe' place far away from the heart of enterprise IT.

"I think there are some concerns about [cloud]," Decker said. "There are no standards yet, for instance. Nobody wants to risk it."

Decker said the concept of the cloud services market was easy to grasp. He had started his first business in 1981 selling time and access to his accounting programs on a Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) PDP-11. Clients would sign up, access the machine remotely and run their numbers, all without his interference. That sounds an awful lot like cloud computing, but Decker said it was breathtaking to see how far connectivity and access to computing had come.

"If you can imagine, the technology we started with was a 300 baud modem," he said.

Others acknowledge that cloud means a major shift in their organizations. It may not come easily, though, as vendors like IBM strive to push the nuts and bolts of IT away from the customer and hide it under point-and-click software, preconfigured hardware and software appliances. Antonio Barreto, vice president for wealth management services at U.S. Bank, said he knew traditional IT roles would suffer if his organization took up the new version of BPM or its online service component, Blueworks Live.

Barreto said, traditionally, creating workflow with business process tools involved office staff to plan and IT staff to put into effect, something the new BPM software short circuits by letting process workers change workflow directly and dynamically.

"IT wants to know where everything is going to fit and exactly what it's going to do first," he said.

Barreto said his organization was interested in the new software, but it was still under evaluation. He added that he wasn't particularly sorry to see the beginnings of the shift towards automated, non-technical software for enterprise, since it was about time the enterprise starting catching up to his smartphone technology.

"It's nice for me, because I'm on the business side," he said.

The tough road to the cloud

Cloud is not nirvana, but it's going to be a very important delivery capability.

Robert LeBlanc

Some early adopters of cloud computing technology came with cautionary tales. Carlos Matos, director of engineering and integration at healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente, said by far the biggest challenge is shifting IT processes, not in grabbing new technology. Kaiser has an advanced integrated services delivery network and highly virtualized IT services model. It is widely considered a lighthouse model for the health care industry, but despite this, Matos said the company is still in an uphill battle to standardize development and applications.

"We still have a hand-crafted, artisan approach to many of our applications," Matos said, terms he thinks far more positive when applied to microbrews.

But Matos said there's no turning back; business demand meant cloud computing was here to stay. He warned that moving to a cloud computing model is not a Shangri-La. It costs time and money, and it will not be kind to weak spots in the IT shop. In the end, he noted, cloud did expose some organizational deficiencies.

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at cbrooks@techtarget.com.

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