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Summary:

After years of talking about cloud computing but offering services that bore little resemblance to the public infrastructure-as-a-service clouds with which most people are familiar, IBM is finally offering a cloud that will compete with those from Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and other major cloud providers.

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IBM's Erich Clementi at Structure

After years of talking about cloud computing but offering services that bore little resemblance to the public infrastructure-as-a-service clouds with which most people are familiar, IBM is finally offering a cloud that will compete with those from Amazon Web Services, Rackspace and other major cloud providers. Called the IBM SmartCloud, the new offering should be a formidable foe, especially when it comes to attracting enterprise customers.

Unlike the majority of the time, when it’s the behemoth IBM that has to be worried about disruptive up-and-coming technologies, this time it’s IBM doing the disrupting. The company has a reputation among large enterprises that is unrivaled among other cloud computing providers, and a huge number of customers already using its various software products that are available to run on top of SmartCloud. IBM probably won’t attract a lot of developers and web startups away from AWS, but it certainly will win enterprise dollars away from not only AWS (although AWS users can run some of their IBM software in EC2), but also more enterprise-focused providers such as GoGrid, OpSource and Terremark. IBM already has large cloud customers, including Lockheed Martin and Kaiser Permanente, that could be potential SmartCloud users.

IBM SmartCloud comes in two flavors, Enterprise and Enterprise+, with the main difference between the two being the level of control a customer wants. The Enterprise version is pay-per-use a la the AWS pricing model, but offers less features and security than does the Enterprise+ version. That version — which will be fully available later this year — gives users various options in terms of security, billing models, technology platforms, availability and management. According to IBM’s Erich Clementi, the goal is to provide an Amazon EC2-like experience primarily for test-and-development purposes and to provide a more robust, and more expensive, experience for production workloads. Pay-per-use rates are comparable with those of AWS — though generally a bit higher — and IBM even offers discounts for reserved resources like AWS does.

IBM SmartCloud users also have a wide variety of IBM database, application-development, monitoring, business intelligence and applications that are able to run atop the cloud. Clementi said the list of additional features and applications won’t stop here, though, adding specifically to “expect that you will find Hadoop runtimes available on the cloud.” IBM’s Hadoop-based InfoSphere BigInsights application was available for testing on IBM’s Smart Business  Develop and Test on the IBM Cloud service, which has been replaced by the SmartCloud platform. Essentially, Clementi said, SmartCloud will be IBM’s underlying platform for most of its future cloud-based services.

SmartCloud is nothing particularly groundbreaking, but that’s kind of the point. IBM wanted to build an easy-to-use, intuitive service that took advantage of IBM’s broad software portfolio and experience managing infrastruture for demanding companies, and that’s what it did. It waited a long time to get to this point, but, with a few notable exceptions such as Netflix, adoption of publicly hosted cloud computing for production applications hasn’t exactly caught on yet among CIOs either. The safe money says that if anyone can bring them on board, it’s IBM.

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