With a Big Push, IBM Gives Cloud Computing Its Blessing

When it comes to upstart technologies, IBM is a kingmaker, says The New York Times. Thanks to its dominant position in selling IT services to mega-corporations, the company can turn nascent efforts such as personal computers (in the 1980s) and Linux (in 2000) into major technology trends, the Times says. And now, it is endorsing cloud computing with a major push. Even though Big Blue has been taking a measured approach, today’s announcement can prove to be the tipping point for cloud computing in the corporate arena. The new IBM effort hopefully will alleviate many corporate concerns such as security of data, service reliability, and regulatory issues. In an interview with The New York Times, IBM Chief Executive Officer Sam Palmisano said, “The information technology infrastructure is under stress already, and the data flood is just accelerating. We’ve decided that how you solve that starts by organizing technology around the workload.”

In other words, IBM’s approach to cloud computing: task-specific clouds. The company will offer business processes as cloud services, according to a company press release. Here are the highlights of IBM’s announcement:

  • Smart Business Test Cloud — A private cloud behind the client’s firewall
  • Smart Business Development & Test on the IBM Cloud
  • IBM CloudBurst — a pre-integrated set of hardware, storage,
    virtualization and networking.

In addition, the company is going to offer a virtual desktop as a service, which would allow businesses to deliver desktops virtually to thin clients. IBM says it can offer these virtual desktops as a service that is delivered from its cloud. Or, instead, companies can have IBM build this service in corporate date centers using client infrastructure. Coming soon — cloud-based services such as business analytics and data storage.

We are not wee bit surprised — for the longest time we have been writing that the cloud will eventually morph into many clouds, each tailored to specific tasks. Think Salesforce.com’s Force Cloud and Intuit’s recent move to offer small business-oriented cloud services. IBM has dubbed this approach of tailoring clouds to specific tasks as hybrid computing, a meaningless marketing term, if you ask me.

In many ways, it is back to the future for IBM, which benefited from the time share movement in the early days. Since then, the company has dabbled in utility computing, marketed on-demand services, and now is embracing cloud computing. Cloud computing is a loosely defined term: It signifies the ability to tap storage and processing resources remotely over the Internet as and when needed.

The current iteration of this utility-styled computing has been popularized by Amazon (s AMZN), and since then, several companies have started offering their own clouds. While the cloud efforts of these upstarts have been embraced by more agile startups, large corporations also want the ease of the cloud, but in a more secure environment. This is, incidentally, turning out to to be a major topic of conversation at our Structure 09 conference scheduled to be held in San Francisco on June 25.

With today’s announcement, IBM joins the ranks of Hewlett-Packard (s HWP), Microsoft (s MSFT) and Cisco Systems (s CSCO) in offering cloud computing infrastructure to large companies. This is being viewed as the next big growth area for the IT business.

The way we see it, IBM’s announcement is precisely what HP has been talking about: automation of tasks and the idea that for enterprises, cloud computing is less about offloading your IT and more about deciding which applications will be more cost-effective in external clouds or taken care of internally.

The idea of building an internal cloud is basically about making IT one big resource for the company rather than spread out through a variety of departments and business units. Honestly, both make sense for big corporate clients.

The story includes contributions from Stacey Higginbotham.