Real Time For Fast Times

IBM combines adaptive processes with utility computing to help businesses quickly respond to change
Measured against IBM's plans are the strategies of competing vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems. HP says companies need to place a priority on getting the technical infrastructure right. "Certainly, business-process work will go on top of that, but you need an adaptive infrastructure to move the resources around and implement business-process changes," says Nick van der Zweep, HP's director of infrastructure solutions.

No one says on-demand business is going to be easy. There are technical challenges that may be glossed over amid all the promise of real-time business. For instance, many companies use batch systems to sift through vital processes such as invoicing. But most of those applications aren't constructed to take advantage of grid computing. "That's not going to be an academic problem for a lot of users who want to implement this," IDC analyst Dan Kuznetsky says.

For developers building grid applications, IBM is making progress in giving them ways to discover resources using software they're familiar with. IBM has begun testing an implementation of the Open Grid Services Architecture-a means of using Web services to call grid resources and manage their security-and will support the specification in its four operating systems. Grid networks are just now becoming ready for wide commercial use, says Bill Zeitler, IBM's senior VP for enterprise systems. "We couldn't have done this last year." Version 3 of the widely used grid-development tool, the Globus Toolkit, due early next year, will include the OGSA protocols.

If infrastructure usage is to become flexible and malleable, then the prices customers pay for hardware and software must reflect that. Palmisano said utility pricing models that apply to some of the company's high-end offerings will filter down to virtually the entire product line by next year. For instance, IBM offers on-demand pricing for its TotalStorage storage server, which houses a meter that sends its usage information to IBM. Storage VP Linda Sanford confirms that "it's safe to say that all my storage products will be sold this way."

That sounds good to Ed Toben, CIO of Colgate-Palmolive Co. The company last week purchased an IBM TotalStorage system to boost the efficiency of its SAP databases, which it operates worldwide. "That requires a lot of horsepower, and if we can pay as we go it's going to save us a lot of money," Toben says.

IBM's vision is evolutionary, says Merrill Lynch analyst Steve Milunovich. That's good, he says, because "businesses don't like their strategic vendors to go off on radical changes." Though not revolutionary, new architectures that support advanced business processes for a fast-changing world may be the future. -with Larry Greenemeier and Aaron Ricadela

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