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Top cloud computing news even the Mayans couldn't predict

Cloud computing vendors have heard their share of cheers and jeers in 2011. Our team reports on the top cloud newsmakers of the year.

This past year saw a lot of frenetic activity in the cloud computing market, a good chunk of which was caused by major players such as IBM and HP that finally started to “get it.”

IBM, which has never articulated a clear, strategic direction for its dizzying array of products, got it this past April when it released its comprehensive Smart Business Cloud initiative. The company woke from its slumber to deliver a family of integrated cloud-based products.

Meanwhile, one of the earliest and most trusted cloud services purveyors -- can you spell “Amazon”? -- demonstrated that not only can a simple human screw-up louse things up for a whole bunch of users, but also that a lack of attention to customer service at a crucial time can affect user perceptions about the entire cloud industry.

All in all, there were plenty of ups and downs in the cloud this year, as witnessed by's news team in 2011.

IBM finds its cloud strategy mojo

Earlier in the year, IBM updated many of its Tivoli management tools, adding support for VMware's Virtual Infrastructure Methodology (VIM) APIs, including image repositories, automated provisioning, application deployment and Tivoli Storage Manager, among others.

The move appeared to focus on a more cohesive message around IBM's myriad cloud-related but confusing products, said Judith Hurwitz, CEO of Hurwitz & Associates Inc., an enterprise IT strategy consultant. Calling the company a sleeping giant with a wide range of cloud products, Hurwitz hailed the move as the start of wrapping them together into an "enterprise-ready" cloud computing platform.

But the giant stirred in April when it rolled out Smart Business Cloud -- Enterprise (SBC), a pay-as-you-go, self-service, online platform that brought cohesion to a scattered cloud strategy. SBC also helped IBM gain back some mindshare it lost to Amazon and Google over the past couple of years.

“IBM stepped into the cloud early, but the market has been very dynamic the past two years,” said Dana Gardner, principal analyst with Inter Arbor, Inc. in Gilford, N.H.

Despite being late to the market, HP has been on track to reach for the cloud for some time

Is HP too late to the cloud party?

HP made a late entry into the enterprise cloud services market early in 2011 when the hardware maker released a family of integrated cloud offerings, many of which were pre-existing products tied together with some new and updated software.

Despite being late to the market, however, HP has been on track to reach for the cloud for some time -- at least since it bought hosting player and on-demand outsourcer EDS in 2008. Still, it's unclear whether enterprise customers will feel the stodgy server and PC vendor can meet their public cloud needs any time soon.

For Amazon, the sky fell a bit

Just when it looked like the cloud systems outages that plagued the industry in 2010 were over, Amazon Web Services (AWS) suffered a massive outage in its Elastic Block Store (EBS) system for a large part of the East Coast last April. Although the source of the original problem was a human-caused configuration error, a cascading “re-mirroring” failure took down a large number of customer cloud sites, including Reddit and Quora, as well as online service provider Heroku.

The basic outage lasted 12 hours, but the aftermath lasted days. To make matters worse, AWS customer service did a less-than-stellar job of keeping affected customers informed about what was going on -- and why.

When you think of Dell, do you think of cloud?

Dell sells a lot of x86 servers -- and the company's CEO and founder, Michael Dell, sees no reason why it shouldn't sell a lot of cloud services, too. The company acquired Boomi a little over a year ago, and it launched the second major update of its AtomSphere Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) cloud integration technology in October at the inaugural Dell World.

Even though Dell claims thousands of customers are using Boomi to link SaaS to on-premises clouds and legacy systems, some conference attendees and analysts remain skeptical Dell is ready quite yet. “There were one or two things missing,” said Jason Burkett, a Louisiana-based solutions architect.

Oracle finally calls the cloud, a cloud

After a few years of refusing to even acknowledge the concept of cloud computing, Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO, finally unveiled its Oracle Public Cloud. At the product’s induction at the OpenWorld conference in October, Ellison unashamedly said, “Everyone’s got a cloud. We need a cloud.”

But Larry, being Larry, didn’t remain humble for long. Ellison boasted that Oracle’s cloud, unlike those of its competitors, is built on industry standards and is completely interoperable with any and all other clouds that might be used in large data centers. Corporate developers will be able to build applications in both Java EE or with Oracle’s Application Express Development Environment, both of which are popular among database developers.

How competitive Oracle Public Cloud will be against offerings from IBM and Amazon remains to be seen. With Ellison now fully participating in the cloud market, however, you can bet it will be entertaining.

VMware vCloud Director 1.5 makes a splash

VMware unveiled the second release of its Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) management package for vSphere -- vCloud Director 1.5 -- to critical acclaim, if not a lot of early adoption. The virtualization king added several new features that users viewed as a good start toward better support for private cloud, including ‘linked clones,” or master templates for quickly provisioning virtual machines so that admins don’t have to configure each new VM from scratch.

Other additions to vCD 1.5 include support for Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and 2005, as well as support for vSphere 5.0.

If Windows Server 8 can gain widespread acceptance, Amazon won’t be the only Seattle-area force in the cloud arena.

And, of course, there’s Microsoft

Even though it’s more a 2012 event, Microsoft revealed it will redouble its cloud efforts with tighter integration between its Azure cloud platform and Windows Server 8. In briefings in September, Microsoft officials called the move the “cloudification” of Windows Server.

Meshing together the two platforms will make it significantly easier for corporate developers to create, deploy and manage cloud-based applications that can work across private, public and hybrid clouds, according to the company. Like Oracle, Microsoft is a bit late to the enterprise-level cloud computing game, but if Windows Server 8 can gain widespread acceptance -- carrying along Azure over the next year or two -- Amazon won’t be the only Seattle-area force in the cloud arena.

Epilogue: 2012 is on the way
Of course, what's past is merely prologue. There are a few hints already about what's coming in the new year. In mid-January, Microsoft plans a reviewers' workshop in Redmond, Wash., to unveil how Windows Server and System Center 2012 will enable customers to host and manage private clouds on Microsoft infrastructure. Conveniently, the betas of Windows 8 and, more importantly for the cloud, Windows Server 8 are slotted for that same timeframe.

As 2012 shifts into gear, expect new and updated initiatives from major and minor cloud players. Stay tuned to for news and analysis as it happens … unless, of course, the Mayans were right and the world ends on December 21, 2012.

Stuart J. Johnston is Senior News Writer for Contact him at

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