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How IBM sees the cloud

IBM's focus on private clouds and relatively heavyweight development and service management tooling is a reflection of its customer base.

At the conceptual level, there isn't a huge amount of disagreement among technologists about the fundamentals of cloud computing--its forms, its characteristics, its potential benefits, and its limitations.

That said, individual vendors come at cloud computing from particular perspectives that often reflect the character and needs of an existing customer base. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of IBM. I attended an IBM event at their new Littleton, Mass., location a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck by the degree to which its latest cloud computing announcements and the strategy of its cloud computing organization mirror the focus and strategy of IBM in other areas.

Several related threads collectively define IBM's primary approach to cloud computing.

The first is "private clouds."

By "private," IBM means one of three things: 1) infrastructure within a customer's data center, 2) infrastructure operated by IBM for a customer within an IBM data center, or 3) IBM infrastructure dedicated to the use of a single customer.

In other words, private pretty much covers the gamut of everything that is not a shared, multi-tenant public cloud.

However, that shouldn't be read as IBM just using the term "cloud" here as a marketing buzzword to cover just about all computing. It's easy to draw that conclusion given IBM's focus on dedicated infrastructure. But while IBM uses the term broadly and very pragmatically, it does associate it with certain specific characteristics.

For example, one IBM exec at the event spoke of an existing virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployment and noted that it was not, yet, a cloud because it is the operations analysis, the service orchestration, and self-service that make a cloud. (In this context, operations analysis refers to identifying and modifying workflows and interactions between people--such as eliminating "ad hoc chatter" that duplicates effort or adds latency.)

A second thread is IBM's main target for this phase of its cloud rollout. That would be development and test--mostly for the reason that IBM sees this as the low-hanging fruit. It's an area of enterprise IT where change happens all the time and resources are often not easily reclaimed even when they're no longer being used.

If this sounds like a familiar storyline, it should. This is where virtualization got its start and for many of the same reasons. At the same time, what IBM is doing here goes beyond test/dev virtualization.

And this brings us to the third thread, the precise nature of the audience for these products.

What's different here from just loading up VMware on a blade server and even adding a VMware product like Lab Manager is the other IBM tooling in place. Rational development toolsets and Tivoli service management are integral parts of these integrated packages. (Tivoli plays a central role in IBM's approach to cloud in general.)

You might think that this is a heavyweight and heavy-duty enterprise-centric approach to cloud computing. You would be right. I made this observation to one of their senior cloud executives and he didn't disagree.

The exec's response: "Our natural constituencies are the enterprise developers and we have to cater to the enterprise developer and enterprise developer teams. Within them, we have the subset who write enterprise transactional software. These are the apps who decide over life or death of a CIO and we have to cater to them. They are also the majority still of the central development organization."

This is not to say that IBM isn't also doing things related to lighter-weight, such as RESTful, development approaches. There's an IBM Mashup Center, for example, and cloud resources on IBM developerWorks. However, this style of cloud computing is not at the forefront of Erich Clementi's cloud computing organization.

But IBM is putting the wood of the arrow behind cloud computing for the core mission-critical applications in an enterprise, its primary target outside of the cloud as well.