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8/5/2008
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AT&T Jumps Into Cloud Computing With Synaptic Hosting

Synaptic Hosting will allow companies to host Windows Server or Linux client-server applications and Web apps in AT&T's data centers, rather than in their own data centers.

As swimmer Michael Phelps and other members of Team USA embark on their quest to make history at the Summer Olympic Games this week, the U.S. Olympic Committee's Web site will likely be flooded with fans seeking their fix of the quickly growing volume news and video from Beijing. Despite the rush of visitors and content, the U.S. Olympic Committee anticipates it will be ready.

Team USA will be banking on a new utility computing service from AT&T called Synaptic Hosting to provide the temporary extra Web server capacity it needs to succeed. AT&T is just the latest entrant into the crowding field of cloud computing, aiming its new managed computing, networking, security, and storage services at big corporate customers.

"Anybody that has any type of dynamic need in their environment, this is where they can leverage the scale that AT&T represents," Jim Paterson, AT&T's VP of product development for hosting and application services, said in an interview.

Synaptic Hosting will allow companies to host Windows Server or Linux client-server applications and Web apps in AT&T's data centers, rather than in their own data centers. Paterson estimates the environment can handle 80% of common applications today, including the whole LAMP stack, most any Web application, Oracle, and SAP.

The U.S. Olympic Committee's needs for immediate scale for a fluctuating Web audience is but one of the possible uses for AT&T's services. There are other as-yet-unnamed big customers, and the company expects business from any company whose IT needs are seasonal or unpredictable, like retailers looking to ramp up their Web sites for Christmas or employers whose servers are pushed to the limit by open enrollment in benefits plans.

According to Paterson, service providers -- specifically AT&T -- are uniquely qualified to succeed in the utility computing marketplace, which despite the recent and looming entrance of Microsoft and Google has so far been dominated by the likes of Amazon and some smaller start-ups. Paterson said AT&T is simply responding to customer demand: it already has plenty of managed services customers, so this is somewhat of a natural step. "They love the network, the network extensibility," he said. "So they have some things they want to do with the network, but also want to use our data centers and leverage our scale. They're very focused on latency, reliability, and security, and we can provide it to them."

The new service is superficially similar to a managed hosting environment, but is licensed via a utility model and leverages a multi-tenant infrastructure. That makes deployments more scalable and pricing more flexible. But it also means customers will give up a bit of control over the physical architecture of the data center.

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