One last thought. IBM's "Smarter Cities" slogan has been mocked by Oracle, among others, and I've wondered exactly what it says to IT. But one place it seems to be playing extraordinarily well is China. IBM announced at the end of January that it had landed the project to help build "Asia's largest cloud data center" 50 kilometers outside Beijing. Using the cloud to deliver better government, health, and transportation services at less expense is clearly a "smarter cities" type of idea and IBM, it turns out, is well positioned to capitalize on it.
I think the real ties were forged when IBM sold its ThinkPad brand to the Chinese manufacturer, Lenovo, in 2005. This was no fire sale. IBM stood by the brand after Lenovo took it over, assuring Lenovo and its new customers that IBM technical support was still behind it. And it helped Lenovo with the next round of marketing for the ThinkPad. To a manufacturer, seeking to establish its credentials and competitiveness as world class, this was a deal that had many intangible ramifications. It was possibly a trust-building exchange between not only IBM and Lenovo, but IBM and the Chinese establishment, however you care to define it.
Another sign of this relationship, with possible cloud ramifications, is IBM's little-known relationship to Chinese banking. IBM has previously cited ties to the Bank of China in London, a mainframe and Informix database user, where its "smarter banking" technologies are allowing the bank to become more digital and less paper-oriented, to the tune of eliminating 3,000 printed messages a day amounting to 50 pounds of paper.
But smarter cities and smarter banking play well inside China itself. IBM just emerged from a competition with HP and Oracle as the winner of a contract to consolidate 23 banking systems in seven cities for the Guangdong Rural Credit Cooperatives. Guangdong spokesmen describe it as the largest, most complicated banking consolidation project in China. The cooperative has 99 member banks that will use IBM Power servers and DB2 to get a better view of customer data and supply more personalized banking services. The member banks represent 5,600 branches, conducting 4 million transactions per day currently. When the project is completed in mid-2011, that number is expected to move up toward 15 million a day.
Just as cell phones helped China skip part of the capital-intensive process of building out a telephone infrastructure, computing -- including cloud computing -- is going to help China rapidly modernize its business, banking, healthcare, and much of the rest of its social infrastructure.