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6/22/2011
12:13 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Will IBM Go 'All In' On Cloud Computing?

IBM has spent more than a decade and tens of billions of dollars buying software. Don't bet on it delivering its smartest technologies on demand any time soon.

Repackaging Software

There are signs that IBM understands that new customers don't want to buy, integrate, and deploy multiple software products from its vast portfolio, and it's offering some easier approaches in some cases, but that doesn't necessarily mean SaaS.

For example, Smarter Cities and Smarter Buildings offerings announced early this month integrate multiple software components into single products with single price points can be deployed without heavy-duty integration work. IBM's Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities, for instance, includes a database (DB2), application server (WebSphere), business rules engine (iLog), data integration and data management (various InfoSphere pieces), and business intelligence and real-time monitoring (Cognos). That's a lot of software, but as IBM executive Karen Parrish described it, the preintegrated bundle gives customers "a massive shortcut."

Similarly, IBM's Intelligent Building Management software, announced June 9, includes Maximo asset management and service-desk software, NetCool/Omnibus real-time monitoring software, Tivoli data management and data warehousing software, iLog rules management software, Cognos dashboarding capabilities, and a Lotus data mashup tools. That's all separate IBM software, but it has been preconfigured to be sold as single product, to help businesses, governments, and schools manage heating, cooling, electricity usage, water consumption, and other variables across dozens of buildings at a time.

I've been briefed on plenty of industry frameworks, blueprints, templates, and various "solutions" from IBM over the years. Outside of a few "Express" offerings aimed at small and midsize businesses, the Smarter Cities and Smarter Buildings products represent a notable effort to sweep away the complexity inherent in licensing, deploying, integrating, upgrading and synchronizing multiple IBM software products. IBM executive Dave Bartlett assures me "it's not a loose coupling," and that IBM will continue to update it as a single product.

The next, obvious question is what about delivering the Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities or the Intelligent Building Management software as a subscription-based service? IBM says that the Smarter Cities offering is likely to be offered as an online service at some point in the future, but there are no such plans for the building management offering. (Perhaps the thinking is that budget-starved cities need a subscription option whereas businesses and universities can afford software.)

Talking to folks at Tulane University, a Smarter Buildings beta customer, it would seem like a subscription version might be an attractive option. Charlie McMahon, CTO at Tulane, said the university is monitoring just one building in a pilot project, but it will need to scale up quickly once it determines exactly what it wants to measure and monitor across its 70-plus-building campus. Anticipating that future, McMahon deployed the software -- with help from IBM -- on a blade server with seven virtualized blades ready for scale out.

What if Tulane could just tap into virtualized servers on demand from an IBM data center? Indeed, many would-be customers don't have just one campus, they manage multiple collections of buildings across town, across a state or across the globe. Why not scale when ready?

McMahon seemed most excited about gaining "a universal, map view of the state of all buildings across the campus." There was no mention of care or concern, much less excitement, tied to running the servers and software that will be required behind the scenes.

IBM's Cloud Strategy

IBM does have a cloud strategy, and you can bet it has done a lot of far-reaching planning and competitive analysis. Company execs stated this spring that IBM expects to see $7 billion in revenue from cloud computing services by 2015. But of the different variations of cloud computing, IBM is talking a lot about infrastructure as a service (often involving its own infrastructure software and hardware) and very little about its most valuable software delivered through online services.

In infrastructure as a service, there's IBM SmartCloud Enterprise , announced in April. It's the company's enterprise-focused alternative to offerings such as Amazon EC2. There's also a public-cloud IBM Managed Cloud Backup service.

In IBM'S marketing lit and videos on SmartCloud Enterprise, there's a lot of discussion about supporting development, collaboration, and testing scenarios. Executives including Steve Mills have also talked up hybrid deployment. In other words, it's heavily pitched -- at least for now -- as supporting and extending traditional on-premises deployments. That's the safe ground that a lot of IT incumbent vendors have been talking about as the first step for cloud computing.

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