IBM Talks Up Cloud Computing

Jun 27, 2009 (02:06 AM EDT)

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At the end of a daylong conference, IBM got a moment in the sun to talk about what it's doing in the cloud. Willy Chiu, VP of IBM Cloud Labs, illustrated how IBM is moving from supplying academics with cloud services to building cloud centers for business and offering cloud appliances.

"Cloud computing is a new way of consuming IT," said Chiu, the father of Blue Cloud, in a talk at Structure 09, a daylong San Francisco conference on cloud computing.

A key feature of cloud computing is self-service by business users--"we're putting IT resources directly into the hands of people." Since October 2007, IBM has worked with 35 universities, extending cloud services to students and researchers. Now it's built nine IBM Cloud Labs for business around the world and will expand the number to 20, Chiu said.

In China, IBM is offering a cloud services factory, Wuxi, intended to serve the needs of two million software engineers in the next two years. Software developers have been among the earliest users of cloud computing concepts because they need to extensively test their code to run in a wide range of configurations and environments. They frequently use virtual machines to do so, and moving virtual machines into the cloud is now a basic concept of cloud computing.

Soon the Wuxi cloud factory will "go beyond software developers to become a supplier of e-government Web services" for a Chinese province, Chiu said.

In Vietnam, IBM has teamed up with the Vietnamese government to make telecom-related services available throughout "a long narrow country. The government views cloud computing as a way to move to a services-lead economy," he said.

In South Africa where there's a shortage of IT skills, IBM is partner to a major bank that is attempting to roll out 200 automated processes through cloud services. "We created standard templates of complex software stacks and test processes," he recounted. The bank offices will gain the automated processes through the cloud without needing the IT skills to implement them itself in each location, he said.

In the Middle East, IBM and Carnegie Mellon University have sponsored a project to create a vertical, oil industry cloud in Qatar that can be share by different companies in the petroleum business. It's hoped that cloud computing will further collaboration and shared skills "in an industry-wide cloud for that region," he said.

In addition to Cloud Labs and individual projects, IBM is also now offering CloudBurst appliances, or specific tasks encapsulated in VMware virtual files with Tivoli service management software loaded on HS22 BladeCenter servers. IBM wheels the combination into a data center ready to be plugged in as a component of an internal cloud, Chiu said.

IBM is also offering Smart Business private cloud services, such as Application Development and Test on external cloud hardware for users of its Rational tool line, and virtual desktop administration though a cloud service. IBM now offers LotusLive desktops as software as a service. Conversion to cloud-style computing "is not going to happen overnight," Chiu said at one point. But he concluded, "There's been an explosion of cloud adoption worldwide" and a "cultural change must accompany the technology shift."

Other speakers at the Structure 09 conference also addressed the "cultural" shift that cloud tends to bring. Instead of new knowledge, it's as much about executing good IT practices with known technologies as it is about implementing new technology, several speakers emphasized.

"You used to have people racking and stacking servers," said Lew Moorman, president of Rackspace Hosting, whose firm offers outsourced facilities. "Staff skills are constantly moving up," he added, and instead of connecting cables, they're connecting the dots in a virtualization management system.

"Operational excellence is the secret sauce of any of these businesses," said Javier Soltero, CTO of management products at SpringSource,supplier of the open source Hyperic Web application management system. "Operational excellence is a big part. I can't underscore it enough," added David Lipscomb, senior VP of engineering at NetSuite, a supplier of online business applications. With ready access to cloud services, business users will adjust to the notion of both scaling up and scaling back, when needed. Today the opposite is true. "When it takes six months to get a server cluster, you're never going to let it go," said Joseph Tobolski, director of cloud computing at Accenture.

One way to get the shift underway, said Michael Crandall, founder and CEO of RightScale, supplier of a cloud management platform, "is to ask, 'How can we begin to experiment with cloud computing?' You will learn best by doing."

"Start now," agreed Tobolski. "Try some things. There will be workloads that you can export to the cloud."