IBM Makes Large Cloud-Computing Investment
- By Stephen Swoyer
- August 5, 2008
IBM Corp. late last week touted the construction of two additional cloud computing
datacenters -- an investment of $360 million -- which let it address what officials
call "surging" demand for cloud computing resources.
IBM said cloud computing is game-changing. Unlike its largely technological
predecessors, computing-on-the-cloud has a few highly topical issues -- such
as virtualization, Web 2.0 and a growing focus on reducing datacenter power
consumption -- in its favor.
Big Blue has already built cloud computing centers in Dublin, Ireland, China
and South Africa as well as in the United States, so the latest cloud facilities
-- based in Tokyo and North Carolina's Research Triangle Park (RTP) -- prove
that IBM is serious, officials argue.
"We're launching two additional cloud computing centers, and one of them
is going to be an extremely large cloud computing center, the largest that we've
launched to date," said Dennis Quann, director of development in IBM's
Autonomic Computing division. "[Both new facilities are] examples of how
we're investing hundreds of millions of dollars to create extremely efficient
datacenters, based on cloud technologies and our enterprise architecture, which
we've instantiated in other cloud computing efforts."
Why does IBM think the cloud is such a safe bet? Quann said the use cases are
already there. Internally, for example, IBM taps cloud computing to help spur
its development efforts. Today, internal IBM groups deploy applications or services
on a cloud, which acts as a sandbox in which to both test and isolate them from
Big Blue's mission-critical application ecosystem.
In addition, cloud computing gives users new and to date undreamed of flexibility
when it comes to creating a proof-of-concept (POC). Internal groups can quickly
bring up prospective projects or services on top of cloud resources and interact
with them via a unified portal. Other vendors have trumpeted
the merits of cloud computing as a quick-and-dirty POC accelerator.
"From a consumer perspective, looking at it from the different use cases
that are coming about, you see the growth of these huge Web 2.0 applications
out there, as well as the emergence of a huge mobile user base. These [applications]
require large amounts of compute resources just to handle the number of users,
because with the Web 2.0 phenomenon, people are actually contributing content
back to these sites," Quann said.
Web 2.0 has enterprise ramifications as well, according to Quann. "It's
not to say that everybody is going to be exactly like YouTube, but even [with]
a bank, [a user consuming your service] could be a person standing on the side
of the street hitting the refresh button on their stock ticker or account balance
or whatever," he said. "That's going to create huge demand on the
systems that are running these applications, so it isn't just about back-end
data processing. We want to talk about supporting lots of different types of
workloads -- both user-based workloads and back-end-based workloads."
Cloud Computing in the Enterprise
More than any other driver, however, Quann cited the push to reduce datacenter
power consumption, which uniquely plays to cloud computing's strength.
It is also the most enterprise-ready flavor of cloud. In most cases, enterprises
should be able to replicate on their own (that is, in their own internal datacenters)
what IBM achieves in its cloud compute centers, typically by using a combination
of virtualization technology and management tooling. Big Blue even touts a do-it-yourself
cloud architecture -- what it calls the New Enterprise Data Center (NEDC) --
based on best practices and technology prescriptions it developed as part of
its own cloud computing efforts.
"The thing that's really compelling about the cloud model, [when it's
used] either internally or externally, is that there are levels of efficiency
that one is able to get that you just can't get [with conventional data centers].
Over time, even internal datacenters will migrate more and more to a cloud approach,
where they adopt cloud principles [such as virtualization]," Quann said.
"The software in these cloud datacenters is composed of a number of our
Tivoli products, [including] a request-driven provisioning product. We also
use a lot of Xen, but we're able to use [other virtualization technologies such
as] VMware, too."
This is not to say that enterprises will abandon internal datacenters -- just
that the internal datacenter will itself become a cloud-computing facility.
"Customers aren't going to be ripping out datacenters and replacing them
with cloud centers overnight. This is going to be a gradual process," Quann
said. "It's going to be a hybrid model, with [both] internal and external
IBM isn't the only player talking up cloud computing's enterprise benefits.
Recently, industry watcher Gartner Inc. touted computing-on-the-cloud as a "disruptive"
model on par with -- and potentially far more transformative than -- the
e-business craze of the late-1990s.
Ultimately, Gartner suggested, cloud computing -- which vendors such as IBM
are struggling to market to enterprise IT organizations -- will have an undeniable
business impact, inasmuch as it "create[s] a new opportunity to shape the
relationship between those who use IT services and those who sell them."
Those with hands-on IT experience are also warming up to cloud computing. Next
week's SHARE conference in San Jose, Calif., for example, will offer attendees
crash courses in cloud computing and its potential enterprise applicability.
Right now, SHARE principals say, most IT shops are trying to wrap their heads
around cloud -- much like they were trying to get up to speed on SOA half-a-decade
ago. Over time, SHARE Vice President Pam Taylor predicted, cloud computing will
gain traction in the enterprise.
"Obviously, there are the early adopters [who] are out there playing with
it right now, but most of the world is trying to figure out what to do with
it, what it means, what the value to them is going to be," said Taylor,
a solutions architect with a Fortune 500 company. "[At SHARE], we're trying
to introduce the technology, the options, get people into that planning phase,
get them better able to understand what it is they're talking about."
Right now, Taylor said, most shops are thinking of cloud computing as a strictly
internal enterprise play -- what she called "cloud within the four walls."
That could change over time. "The idea of bigger clouds that transcend
an individual organization's boundaries and kind of go to this notion of true
utility computing is probably still a little further out," she said.
"Right now we're trying to bring the discussion into the SHARE audience,
start to expose people to what it's all about, get them prepared for when the
CIOs says, 'I want my own cloud' because [she] read about it in an airline magazine
or something like that."
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.