IBM goes beyond just slapping 'cloud' label on old products

Analysts say mix of public and private cloud services should appeal to enterprises

After some fits and starts, IBM has re-tooled its cloud strategy and come up with a set of offerings that should make both the public and private cloud models more appealing to enterprises, analysts say.

When Big Blue unveiled its "Blue Cloud" initiative about 18 months ago, the company mainly focused on slapping the "cloud" label on a bunch of previously released products, Forrester analyst James Staten says.

"When they launched Blue Cloud, we accused them of cloud washing, by taking a bunch of existing stuff and saying 'this is cloud' and 'this is cloud,'" Staten notes.

IBM has made many cloud-related marketing pushes since that time, but an announcement this week of several cloud services and products shows the progress IBM has made, Staten says.

Staten says IBM seems to have learned lessons from customer engagements, allowing it to create new technologies and repackage others in ways that are appealing to enterprises, rather than only small businesses. IDG analyst Frank Gens adds that IBM's technology can help enterprises standardize services with virtualization and automation, all while offering enterprise-grade security, privacy and availability.

IBM is guilty of some hyperbole, claiming in a draft press release that it has created "the industry's first set of 'cloud' services and integrated products for the enterprise."

But overall, Staten says that "IBM is now showing that it actually gets the cloud."

IBM is focusing on development and test environments and virtual desktop management with this week's announcement, saying it will help clients build private clouds behind their firewalls for these purposes. IBM will also host a public cloud service so that enterprises can access test and dev environments or virtual desktops from a remote location over a network connection. On the virtual desktop side, IBM partners with vendors such as VMware and Citrix, and adds its own management tools to automate processes, monitor key systems and deploy security and governance policies.

Although IBM said its public cloud is only in a "preview" mode, it is already in use by a limited number of customers including the Pike County School District in Kentucky, which is accessing virtual desktops from an IBM-hosted data center.

Although several of the announced cloud technologies aren't new, IBM is packaging them in new ways that allow CIOs to deploy services faster and increase levels of automation and efficiency within the data center, analysts say.

For example, IBM's new CloudBurst appliance provides a 42U rack with blade servers; storage; the VMware hypervisor; various software components that help provision new services and manage energy use; and self-service portals for developers. Shipping June 19 at a list price of US$207,000, the product competes against HP's recent BladeSystem Matrix system.

IBM had previously released the WebSphere CloudBurst appliance, but that was focused on managing WebSphere only whereas the new system is designed to help developers create and test all sorts of applications. IBM's Dennis Quan, director of autonomic computing, calls it a "private cloud that will run out of the box."

By naming the appliances after the phrase "cloud bursting," analysts say IBM is indicating that the appliances will eventually have the ability to seamlessly connect with public cloud computing resources, letting enterprises gain extra capacity on an as-needed basis.

Although this is an important announcement for IBM, it doesn't necessarily guarantee them a new customer base. IBM-only shops will likely gravitate toward IBM cloud offerings, "but you can say that for Microsoft customers and you can say that for HP customers," according to Gens. "I think IBM's number one target is IBM shops."

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