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IBM's Cloud CTO Hints At What's To Come

As IBM's recently named cloud computing CTO, Kristof Kloeckner has had four months to craft a cloud computing strategy, and it's becoming clear that IBM's plans go well beyond what the company has delivered so far. "We see huge opportunity in this space," Kloeckner told me during a visit to Big Blue's headquarters.
As IBM's recently named cloud computing CTO, Kristof Kloeckner has had four months to craft a cloud computing strategy, and it's becoming clear that IBM's plans go well beyond what the company has delivered so far. "We see huge opportunity in this space," Kloeckner told me during a visit to Big Blue's headquarters.IBM's not quite ready to divulge all of the details about its cloud computing plans, but, in talking about the emerging market, Kloeckner describes services and business scenarios that would be transformative. Examples: customer data clouds in the retail industry, risk management clouds in finance, and medical imaging clouds in health care. These would be partner clouds of data and applications--Kloeckner refers to them as "ecosystems"--with built-in analytics capabilities.

In a related but different concept, Kloeckner talks of shared, semi-private clouds that might be hosted by a cloud service provider (think IBM) rather than the companies using the cloud. Customers are telling IBM that "we want a shared infrastructure, but we don't want it as open as Amazon," he says.

IBM announced the formation of a cloud computing group in February. It's led by VP of strategy Erich Clementi, who reports to CEO Sam Palmisano. Kloeckner moved over from IBM's Software Group, where he was VP of strategy and technology. In his new position (his formal title is CTO of enterprise initiatives and VP of cloud computing platforms), Kloeckner has formed an architectural board with representatives from the company's software, services, hardware, and research divisions. That's significant because it suggests that IBM's cloud offerings will be represented from all parts of the company, not be a narrow product set from one division. "We believe cloud computing is going to have an impact on each and every one of our brands," says Kloeckner.

How will IBM's cloud computing products and services be different from what the company already sells? Kloeckner admits that some of the technologies are familiar but says they're being assembled and delivered in new ways, and of course new technologies are part of it, too. The primary characteristics of cloud computing, he says, are self-service, flexible economics, and scalability. "I think the game changer is self-service," Kloeckner says. "I can't over emphasize self-service and flexible delivery modes."

Big Blue has 9 million square feet of data center space, and much of its early work in the cloud has been done in its own data centers, where IBM stands to benefit. Cloud computing promises to address a "crisis of complexity" in IT infrastructures and harness out-of-control management and energy costs, Kloeckner says. If it works as envisioned, cloud computing will transform not just IT departments, but how companies are organized and how they conduct business, he adds.

A few months ago, I described IBM's cloud strategy as being "half baked." Look for IBM to answer that criticism with a more complete set of public and private cloud offerings sometime soon.