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IBM stakes its claim in the cloud with Cloud Labs

Big Blue's announcement of a new cloud-computing service for the enterprise market finally puts it solidly on the cloud map, without losing any of that signature IBM service.

First, a mea culpa. Last night I commented on Gordon Haff's analysis of the Tivoli announcements from IBM Pulse, the company's big service management conference in Las Vegas this week. I wrote the bulk of that post much earlier in the day, and stand by its contents as it applies to those specific items. However, I should have looked one more time at my Google Reader, as there was much, much more to the IBM announcement. This post is a review of that announcement as a whole.

Oh, and all comments on any of my posts are my own opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of my employer, Cisco Systems.

IBM greatly strengthened its position in the world of cloud computing this week. What IBM announced, if you haven't seen it already, is a laundry list of product and service enhancements and extensions aimed at meeting the needs of cloud computing customers. Most of the announcement was more of the same point products and global services offerings we have come to know and love from IBM, and I commented on them last night.

The heart of the announcement, however, was a partnership with Juniper Networks to "demonstrate how a hybrid cloud could allow enterprises to seamlessly extend their private clouds to remote servers in a secure public cloud..." This is the announcement I have been looking for from IBM.

About six months ago, I ruminated to some friends that I thought the industry was waiting for three companies to clearly state their cloud value proposition: IBM, HP, and Cisco. I joined one (Cisco), interested in the opportunity to help drive that message. I have to give credit where credit is due, however, as IBM is the first of the three to answer the question "company + cloud = ?". The "?" is clearly their Cloud Labs and the hybrid cloud services they are poised to offer from those data centers.

Here's the deal: According to the IBM press release, they wanted to announce four key items related to cloud computing:

  • Elizabeth Arden, Nexxera, the United States Golf Association, and Indigo Bio Systems sign on as new IBM cloud computing clients; TOTVS expands cloud project with IBM.
  • Global Services to offer data protection software "as a service" through the cloud, in addition to a new IBM cloud environment for businesses to safely test applications.
  • New IBM software manages and secures cloud computing environments.
  • IBM showcases the first live demonstration of a global "overflow cloud"--IBM and Juniper Networks to install hybrid cloud capabilities across IBM's worldwide Cloud Labs for customer engagements.

That last bullet should catch your eye. Later in the release, IBM states:

IBM and Juniper Networks will demonstrate how a hybrid cloud could allow enterprises to seamlessly extend their private clouds to remote servers in a secure public cloud, as high priority applications are given preference over the lower priority ones when resources become constrained. IBM and Juniper are installing this network capability into IBM's nine world wide Cloud Labs for customer engagements. Once installed, IBM and Juniper could seamlessly roll client workloads from Beijing to Silicon Valley to Sao Paulo to ensure that clients never miss a service level agreement.

IBM's staked territory in cloud computing is their own global cloud offering, but with a twist: true cloudbursting not only between their own Cloud Labs, but between the customer's data center and a Cloud Lab. They won't be the only ones to do this by any means--Amazon has been rumored for some time to be talking to customers about how to do this with their cloud services, and VMware made a point of expressing this capability in their vCloud announcement last year--but IBM demoed the concept, which means they have some real technology behind the vision.

(VMware vCloud partner, Skytap, has claimed support for hybrid clouds based on VMware virtual machines since at least last September, so I'm not sure if IBM gave the first public demo of this concept or not.)

At the same time, the services have not yet been delivered to the nine targeted Cloud Lab locations, so this is still pretty much a "vision announcement". No time frame was given for actual availability of the hybrid services, but I would assume that more than 12 months from now would be too long.

Unfortunately, I think the Tivoli and Global Services portions of the press release are more of the same from IBM, as I noted in last night's post. I continue to harbor the criticism that you can't just buy IBM SKUs item by item; if you want Tivoli Provisioning Manager, you pretty much have to get Global Services involved to install and configure it, and probably need a variety of other Tivoli management products and Global Services offerings to make the purchase really worth while.

I called this IBM-as-a-Service...that is definitely still the MO with all of the announcements. With IBM, you are either an IBM shop, or by buying one of their data center (or cloud) products, you will be one some day...whether you wish it or not.

I am curious to see if a partner ecosystem evolves around this technology, and if IBM makes it available to other hosting providers trying to push into cloud computing. If this remains IBM's "turf", then there is a lot of opportunity to pin the "cloud lock-in" tag on them. If they are generous and open with the technology, then IBM may just have firmly established themselves as one of the primary cloud infrastructure players.

In many ways, it's about time. Now for HP and Cisco...