IBM today released its latest cloud offering — a mix of consulting services, gear and a management platform aimed at communications service providers (ISPs for most of us) — with France Telecom and Shanghai Telecom named in the release as pilot customers. By itself, the announcement is mundane, but it represents a shift in Big Blue’s cloud computing strategy from designing workload-specific clouds to building and selling cloud services to specific industries. So instead of the test-and-development or business-intelligent clouds we’ve covered in the past, IBM plans to release more products specifically aimed at healthcare, education, insurance and financial services industries.
IBM will keep its existing workload-specific clouds, but because it realized that a variety of security issues, interdependencies among applications and an overall nebulousness about “cloud computing” make selling workload-specific clouds to a wide number of customers unpalatable, the computing giant changed course. It’s no secret that big companies in big industries love to be catered to, so selling them some type of “optimized end-to-end platform” that could “accelerate their business” makes sense. IBM is willing jargon up its offerings (which sound pretty much like consulting), its own gear (plus other gear if that’s what a client has and they don’t want shiny new CloudBurst appliances) and a software platform that helps manage the overall cloud offering.
The software platform is the most interesting aspect of the offering and will actually stay pretty much the same for all the industry-specific offerings, with certain features optimized for each vertical. On Wednesday, IBM announced its latest hardware, and also it had decoupled its software platform from the hardware to allow it to run on gear from other companies. As a strategy, this makes sense, given many large enterprises are leery of vendor lock-in. Gary Cohen, general manager of communications sector at IBM, stressed that IBM has the most complete offering of all cloud hardware providers and that the entire offering would work with gear from anyone.
The software platform has certain capabilities outlined in the IBM release for service providers, such as enabling the ISP to provision tens of thousands of virtual machines per hour, provision new services in less than a minute and scale to run and manage millions of concurrently running virtual machines. This does help a company build an actual compute cloud that scales and provisions on demand.
The idea is that ISPs can use the IBM-built platform as a means to let partners offer services to the ISPs’ clients much like Force.com allows developers a way to reach Salesforce.com customers. For ISPs, which often have customers relying on them for IT services already, having a true cloud platform provides more flexibility and offerings that can help them derive revenue from their pipes and compute infrastructure. Many ISPs already have their own cloud products, such as AT&T’s Synaptic Hosting or Verizon’s Compute as a Service.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll see IBM announce other industry-specific cloud products, something IBM executive Erich Clementi had hinted at in his interview with me onstage at our Structure 2010 event in June. So, expect to see more industry clouds like the one announced today or partnerships such as the one IBM announced in August with Aetna as it seeks to wring real dollars out of the vapor that is the cloud.
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