IBM floats vision of cloud's future

newsmaker The head of IBM's cloud-computing strategy talks about why the company wanted to develop the technology, and where he plans to take it.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

newsmaker Over the past couple of years, IBM has expanded its cloud-computing facilities, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on creating data centers to do the work and cloud centers to handle clients. As part of this, IBM set up its first cloud-computing center in Europe, in an existing company campus in Ireland, a year ago.

ZDNet UK spoke to the new head of IBM's cloud strategy, Willy Chui, while visiting the center, which is based on an industrial estate just outside Dublin. The site has eight virtually identical buildings, which house the company's headquarters in Ireland as well as the main data center that powers IBM's cloud services in the region.

Chui talked about his plans for the Cloud Computing Centre, which acts as a hub for research and services for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He also talked about how IBM is approaching cloud computing, which IDC has predicted will be a 29.5 billion pounds (US$42.9 billion) market within three years.

Q: Is cloud computing gaining acceptance everywhere?
Chui: We are seeing the cloud paradigm much more in the emerging markets like China and India--they don't have the legacy infrastructure. The mature markets are starting to pick up now, as well. A lot of the major financial institutions and the telcos are looking at cloud because they want more efficient operations.

What made you decide to build the cloud center in Ireland?
Minister Martin [Michael Martin, Ireland's minister for enterprise, trade and employment at the time IBM decided to invest in the country] came to kick it off when he was minister of trade. We really had very strong support from the Industrial Development Agency to create a common cloud center, and use it as an innovation area, and to stimulate collaboration between the universities and businesses. From day one, we have worked on collaborative projects.

What sort of projects?
For example, one of the companies involved is a subsidiary of Capgemini. They wanted a way to link 20,000 IT consultants around the world. They wanted to share more of their information, IP, knowledge and best practices, and so on. Instead of creating a system within their own confines, which would have taken them six months or more, they instead hosted a system and introduced collaboration.

In the space of a few days, they generated over 5,000 ideas [from participants] in this project. They found that 60 percent of their employees participated, and they counted that as a success.

Internally, in IBM, we have our own cloud system that we call the Technology Adoption Program. We used it in [developing] the Lotus Sametime program, for example. We used a sandbox to work it through, and then, in trials throughout IBM, different employees would use it. This could cut down development time, shorten the time to market and improve the quality of what we deliver.

How many cloud computing centers do you have?
Nine cloud centers around the world--we call them 'Cloud Labs'. Then we have six customer centers. [Two of the cloud centers] are in Silicon Valley and Dublin. Then we have [one in] South Africa, which we created last June.

And last month, we created a customer center in Qatar for the oil and gas businesses and for the universities, so they can create a collaborative environment. The government is behind the whole thing there. It's created a lot of buzz around the Middle East. But that is a customer center that they pay for, and that we created for them.

Then we have Bangalore. [Plus] Vietnam, which is a hot spot for technical development--in Hanoi, we have a customer center which we developed with a telco. Then, in China, we have a cloud center in Beijing, which is another customer center.

Then we have Korea. And Japan, where we also have an innovation center.

How do cloud centers and innovation centers relate to each other?
They are often co-located. The innovation center will usually provide the infrastructure for the lab. The infrastructure is often an IBM infrastructure, and that is how we profit.

If you look at Dublin, we have six or seven research projects running at the lab there now. Some are in collaboration with government and some are in collaboration with business.

This must all present a substantial amount of investment by IBM. Isn't the objective, or one of them, to reduce the amount of hardware you need?
What we are seeing is a new way of working. But we do see things, such as in Asia, where there is a [cloud computing] project to share resource across pools of government. They did not use virtualization. However, it will be far easier for them to move to a virtualized infrastructure, since they have already adopted this cultural change.

The cloud fits in with [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama's message about finding ways to stimulate the economy, to bring it out of the doldrums. One way is to not just spend money on the infrastructure, but to spend it in a smarter way; to leverage the information and the intelligence, and then leverage the fact that it is a more interconnected world. So logistics, information management and traffic management can all be done in a much smarter and effective way.

What it the difference between 'the cloud', as IBM uses it, and grid computing?
I get asked this question a lot. Is this grid computing, is it software-as-a-service (SaaS), what is it? A major difference is that cloud computing is evolutionary, but it has many characteristics that make it revolutionary. But it is evolutionary, because it is a combination of all of [those things]--with a grid, with SaaS, and with utility computing, when you are metering by the hour.

All of those things can be characteristics of cloud computing. But the things that really distinguish it, that answer questions like: 'Why is it now so popular?', are things like cost reduction, speed and time to market.

The main issue is, how do you deliver it as a service and consume it as a service? We see the massive scalability that you get--the Internet-scale capability--and you can access this capacity anywhere. Taken together, that is delivery as a service.

If you look at the self-service aspect of that--which is analogous to the consumer shopping experience online, when you have a shopping cart and you fill it by drag-and-drop--it becomes easy to consume. This has not been adopted in the IT world until more recently. This can go all the way from provisioning and deployment and so on, and they can do it in a self-service manner.

So now we can produce a service all across the IT system, with the services all provided through the cloud. The idea is that you do not have to go to many places, when you do development with a tool: You do some system testing, and then you deploy it. Those are the things that make it so compelling.

You see the whole thing as being virtualized?
Exactly, yes. You know this all began with IBM, but now it has developed and moved along, and now even standards are being talked about.

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