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IBM serves up virtual computing

In its latest step toward utility computing, Big Blue is offering to let customers use the Internet to tap into the power of server computers that run a variety of operating systems.

In its latest step toward utility computing, IBM is offering to let customers use the Internet to tap into the horsepower of servers that run a variety of operating systems.

The company's new "virtual server services," announced Tuesday, involve letting customers access the computing power of IBM xSeries, pSeries and iSeries machines. These servers run, respectively, Windows; AIX, IBM's version of Unix; and OS/400, another IBM operating system.

Utility computing refers to a push to harness computing power as though it were a traditional

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utility service such as electricity, in which users pay for the amount they consume and don't have to worry about the underlying technology.

In keeping with IBM's on-demand initiative, customers who sign on for the offering will pay only for the computing power and capacity they need, IBM said. Businesses could cut their costs 30 percent by using the service rather than installing an in-house computing system, according to IBM.

The new service involves having companies share IBM server computers, said Mike Riegel, director of marketing in IBM's services wing. That can raise concerns about keeping critical company data secure. But Riegel said that customer agreements address that worry and that Big Blue offers tools to let customers verify the security of their data. Although some clients prefer to have some of their computing infrastructure on IBM machines that are dedicated to them alone, the lower cost of the shared, totally "virtual" method is a big seller, Riegel said.

"Invariably, when they see the cost savings, they get pretty excited about the all-virtual approach," he said.

The announcement builds on a previous IBM offer to let customers access mainframe computers that run Linux. It demonstrates that IBM is serious about its utility computing efforts, said David Tapper, senior analyst at research firm IDC.