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IBM jumps into cloud, customers tip-toe behind

IBM introduced two tiers of cloud computing service aimed squarely at enterprise customers

By , IDG News Service
April 07, 2011 11:07 PM ET

IDG News Service - In announcing its cloud computing services on Thursday, IBM stressed repeatedly that private clouds -- or those that exist behind the corporate firewall -- are as important to its strategy as those in the public realm.

It seems like a wise strategy, given that even the IBM customers brought to a company event here to showcase their cloud development efforts were either not using the public cloud at all, or still in the early stages with it.

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Tony Kerrison, CTO at financial services firm ING, said his company is running "zero" applications today in the public cloud. Like other financial services firms, ING is heavily bound by regulatory requirements, as well as strict European Union rules about where its customer data can be stored.

Even putting e-mail in the cloud, which is first on Kerrison's wish list, will be "a challenge" because of the regulatory issues, he said in an interview at IBM's Cloud Forum in San Francisco, where IBM announced its latest public and private cloud offerings.

Carlos Matos, senior director for infrastructure management and systems integration at Kaiser Permanente, said his company "dipped our toes" into a cloud initiative this year. Scott Skellenger, senior director for global IT operations Illumina, a life sciences firm that provides genotyping services, declined to specify what applications, if any, his company is running in the cloud.

That's not to say IBM doesn't have plenty of customers using its cloud services. But it highlights the challenges of getting enterprise customers, especially in data-sensitive industries such as health and finance, to embrace public services.

IBM announced two tiers of cloud service at the event Thursday, under the umbrella name of the IBM SmartCloud.

One, the Enterprise service, is an infrastructure-as-a-service offering similar to those from Amazon Web Services. Customers can deploy Windows or Linux applications in IBM data centers and IBM says it will guarantee 99.5 percent uptime annually.

The other, Enterprise Plus, offers higher levels of security and a 99.9 percent uptime guarantee, plus the option to run virtual machines on dedicated hardware, rather than servers shared with other customers, and the option to use AIX as well Windows and Linux.

Enterprise Plus users also get more flexible management, security and availability options. IBM will manage just the hardware and hypervisors, for example, or almost any combination of the OS, middleware, application or entire business process.

"IBM is trying to go a step further than the standard cloud offerings already out there, in terms of security, reliability and availability," said IDC analyst Jean Bozman.

The SmartCloud services aren't entirely new -- IBM has offered them on a custom basis for some time. But it's the first time they are being widely offered as a listed product with a fixed menu of options, said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive in charge of IBM's software division.

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