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Eyeing smart grid, IBM builds cloud computing hub in U.K.

IBM's U.K. Smart Energy Cloud can gather data multiple times a day from any smart meter in the country and store it centrally in a secure cloud environment.

IBM on Monday announced a joint venture with British telecom firm Cable&Wireless Worldwide to develop a "smart energy cloud" for the U.K. in support of the country's planned rollout of some 50 million smart meters.

The cloud, effectively a communications hub, is intended to offer a view of energy usage across the country, thus optimizing implementation of a smart grid. For IBM, it's another software and middleware deal; for C&W, it's a way to use its more than 18,000-miles-of-cable-long network more efficiently.

The "U.K. Smart Energy Cloud," as it's officially called, can gather data many times a day from any smart meter in the country and store it centrally in a secure, purpose built, local hosted cloud environment. This allows employees to send the data to energy retailers for assessment -- that is, to more accurately match billing with usage.

Specifically, the cloud is built on IBM's scalable WebSphere enterprise messaging infrastructure and uses an Informix time-series database at its core. Security, monitoring and management is provided by Tivoli.

The key point in all this is scalability. By its nature, the cloud is designed to scale as the number of smart meters (and their intelligence, for that matter) grows, without the need to uproot physical infrastructure every decade or so.

In IBM's own words:

Energy retailers will not need to make expensive up-front investments in hardware, systems, people, or the communications network. Instead, they can have confidence in deploying smart meters, knowing that any meters inherited from other retailers can be switched with no service disruption. For consumers, this means switching retailers will become easier and more transparent.

Size matters, too: in the U.K., IBM is advising three of the six largest energy retailers on smart metering; meanwhile, C&W serves more than half the population of the U.K., with a presence in more than 400 towns.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com