IBM Attacking the Cloud from All Angles

By Derrick Harris

November 25, 2008

As it has done so many times before, IBM might have drawn up the perfect strategy for making money in cloud computing. Instead of simply selling infrastructure or software as services, Big Blue also will be offering consulting and implementation advice, and will brand others’ clouds with the IBM-approved “Resilient Cloud” logo.

Regarding the consulting and service-building announcement, Brian Reagan, director of the Business Continuity and Resiliency Strategy (BCRS) division at IBM, says the initiative is the direct response to customer questions and interest around cloud computing. They are eager to understand the cloud — what belongs in it, how much it will cost, what it mean for their infrastructures, etc. — says Reagan, but “It is a buyer-beware world when it comes to cloud computing.” He says IBM’s decades of providing enterprise consulting, as well as its experience in virtualization, grid computing and on-demand computing, put the company in the best position to bring cloud to the enterprise.

The implementation services, he explained to me, will help customers figure out how to unlock the business value of cloud computing by developing the best-possible strategies and business models to deal with it. Whether the resulting solution is in-house, public or hybrid, Reagan assured me this service is about cloud computing, not just IBM-branded cloud computing, so backend technologies will be deployed according what will best serve the customer — even if they’re not from IBM’s portfolio. (Ed. Note: We’ll see about that.)

“It tends to be lumped into a technology discussion, [but] ultimately, this is about unlocking business value using a specific technology paradigm,” Reagan says. While IBM brings both business and technology to bear, he acknowledges IBM won’t always be the best fit for a customer’s needs.

An example of a hybrid implementation is the Neighborhood Centers case study cited in the announcement. Reagan, who is very familiar with this partnership, says IBM provides the cloud services layer and another partner provides the infrastructure layer.

In addition to customer confusion over what cloud computing actually is, Reagan says reticence to trying something new and potentially unstable also played a role in the development of the consulting service. There are issues over security and resilience, among other areas, he notes, and IBM wants to help knock down some of these barriers one customer at a time.

Coming out of his division, the Resilient Cloud Validation program is Reagan’s wheelhouse. Although resiliency often is relegated to shorthand, even within BCRS, Reagan says it is a very broad concept that spans many processes, technologies and tiers, and then covers how well a company can recover from disruption via failover, scale, etc. Reagan is quick to point out that IBM has 40-plus years in the resiliency space, several years experience developing and honing its Blue Cloud internally, and multiple acquisitions to fill in any gaps.

“Not all resiliency is … identical,” he says his division explains to customers. “It’s going to be purpose-built or purpose-driven to your business’s specific requirements. We have a very clear roadmap of what resiliency looks like in a variety of different use cases, we can gap you against that, and if there are critical exposures, then we can help put a plan in place to help you close those.”

And don’t forget about the network effect. The resiliency of a service provider has many downstream effects, so assuring customers of that early on in the game is critical.

Target customers are service providers across the cloud spectrum, says Reagan, especially consumer-focused cloud offerings and IBM customers offering cloud-based services to end-users. Not only will IBM work with them to ensure resiliency, but the “Resilient Cloud” logo also should serve as a marketing tool. Reagan says he doesn’t expect many IBM-approved clouds will be competitive with IBM’s own offerings because of how heavily focused IBM is on the enterprise. “IBM’s hardware, software and services play in cloud really is going to be focused on is helping businesses really achieve the benefits of cloud, versus a consumer play, for example,” he told me.

I have no idea from where IBM pulled this number, but Reagan also said IBM’s latest data shows cloud computing being a $95 billion business (IDC has cloud services as a $42 billion market by 2012). If that’s true, I expect IBM will see a relatively large piece of the pie from its enterprise cloud technology offerings, and Reagan thinks it can get a piece from this validation program, too. IBM doesn’t have specific breakdowns of where that spending will go, “But inside of a $95 billion market, obviously, if one of the gates is the concern around resilience, we absolutely know we have a very strong business today in providing resilience to companies of all shapes and sizes, and across every industry,” he said. “We know that there’s an opportunity to bring that same capability to bear in this play.”

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