In 2000, the Linux operating system was hot technology, but it had not spread much beyond scientists, researchers and computer programmers. Then International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) declared that it would back Linux with investment, research and marketing, and the technology moved swiftly into the corporate mainstream.
The same thing happened with the personal computer in the early 1980s, when IBM endorsed that upstart technology and entered the market.
Starting this week, IBM is returning to the same playbook, introducing some initial products and services and a road map for its stable of corporate and government customers to comfortably embrace cloud computing.
New plan: IBM’s corporate headquarters in New York. After the company helped create the personal computer industry, lower-cost competitors ended up dominating the business.
Cloud computing—in which vast stores of information and processing resources can be tapped from afar, over the Internet, using a personal computer, cellphone or other device—holds great promise in the corporate market. The cloud model, analysts say, has the potential to cut the costs, complexity and headaches of technology for companies and government agencies.
Already, Amazon.com Inc., Google Inc. and Salesforce.com Inc., among others, offer cloud-based Web services to companies, including email, computer storage and customer management software. But many big companies and government agencies have been reluctant to get on board because of traditional corporate-computing concerns such as the security of data, reliability of service and regulatory compliance. “IBM knows how to do all of those things,” said Frank Gens, chief analyst for IDC, a technology research firm. “Its strategy is all about making cloud computing safe for enterprise customers.”
Even if IBM succeeds in its bid to make cloud computing more palatable for big corporations, there is no guarantee that it will be the main beneficiary of the trend. After IBM helped create the PC industry, lower-cost competitors ended up dominating the business.
In the cloud market, IBM plans a tailored approach. The hardware and software in its cloud offerings will be meant for specific computing chores. Just as Google runs a computing cloud optimized for Internet search, IBM will make bespoke clouds for computing workloads in business.
Its early cloud entries follow that model. One set of offerings is focused on streamlining the technology used by corporate software developers and testers, which can consume 30% or more of a company’s technology resources.
The second set is virtual desktop services, in which personal computer software, either from Microsoft or open-source alternatives, is run on remote servers and piped to simple desktop machines equipped with screens and keyboards. IBM found in tests with clients that such virtual PCs, with little desktop processing or storage, can use 70% less power than conventional PCs and reduce technical support costs by up to 40%.
Both software development and desktop services are being offered as an integrated bundle of hardware and software for a cloud running inside a corporate or government data centre, or as a cloud service hosted in an IBM data centre.
IBM calls its approach of fine-tuning hardware and software for specific jobs hybrid computing.
And it will open a Hybrid Computing Research lab later this year, inviting industry and university scientists to work cooperatively on new application-specific designs that improve performance by 100-1,000 times compared with today’s systems.
IBM had an initiative, begun in early 2008, called Blue Cloud, which involved adapting its server computers for cloud technology. Most major technology suppliers have cloud-related hardware and software products, including Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Dell Inc. But IBM, analysts say, is going further by offering simplified, integrated stacks of hardware and software, as well as cloud services.
IBM’s cloud strategy, the company said, is the culmination of 100 prototype projects with companies and government agencies over the last year, and its research partnership with Google.
One of IBM’s test beds for cloud computing has been the Interior Department’s National Business Center, a service centre that handles payroll, human relations, financial reporting, contracting services and other computing tasks for federal agencies. The centre runs two large data centres, one in Northern Virginia and another outside Denver.
Douglas J. Bourgeois, the centre’s director, said he is introducing several cloud-style applications over the next nine months. And in tests with financial and procurement software, the cloud-computing environment has delivered efficiencies of 40-60% in productivity and power consumption, he said.
“For us, like other data centres, the volume of data continues to explode,” Bourgeois said. “We want to solve some of those problems with cloud computing, so we don’t have to build another $20 million data centre.”
©2009/The New York Times