Private cloud ball is now in IBM’s court


opinion Over the past year, nearly all of Australia’s top-tier telcos and IT services giants have launched ambitious new cloud computing strategies as they try to tap into local chief information officers’ ravenous appetite for information and services in the area.

CSC kicked off the launch cycle in February along with Fujitsu, but others soon followed — Optus in September, and Telstra and Accenture in October. And today, HP joined the throng of top-tier technology giants throwing their hat into the cloud ring.

However, throughout the entire year, there has been one notable absence from the private cloud bandwagon which every vendor in Australia is increasingly hitching themselves to — IBM.

While all of its rivals have been hyping up the private cloud locally, Big Blue has remained strangely absent from the discussion. It has not called press conferences or ritzy lunches at restaurants like Sydney’s Aria (try the Murray Cod, it’s spectacular). It has not directed its advertising agency to flush the media with rosy, cloud-covered vistas with puns about “silver lining”.

It has not even directed the occasional press release about cloud-related product launches to the inboxes of Australian journalists (although, perhaps we should be grateful for that).

And yet, IBM is known to be involved in private cloud solutions in Australia. Westpac technology czar didn’t say it explicitly when he detailed the bank’s development of its own in-house private cloud based on the VMware, Cisco and EMC stack in October. But there is no doubt IBM must have been involved. And I’m sure Big Blue has many more customers who have started utilising private cloud-like infrastructure down under.

When I asked IBM distinguished engineer Michael Shallcross about IBM’s cloud computing solutions early last month, it was clear the company was doing a lot.

Shallcross pointed out that the company’s cloud strategy had “multiple elements to it”.

Not only does Big Blue help organisations build their own private clouds, he said, the company has several high-profile public cloud computing services, such as its Lotus Live platform. In the US, the company is providing cloud environments focused on testing and development workloads — a popular area which many organisations are moving into the cloud.

And in addition, IBM is also obviously what Shallcross described as “a components provider” — as in, it’s often the company’s hardware and software solutions that go into building clouds.

Big Blue has long provided managed services at various levels — which in many cases, logically evolve into private cloud environments — and then, too, the company also provides consulting services around the cloud.

Like other vendors, Shallcross sees the term ‘cloud computing’ as a journey, particularly when it comes to the evolution of virtualised environments, rather than a specific product.

In all of these matters, IBM shares a great deal with many of its competitors; its vision is not that different from that of a CSC or a Fujitsu, or even a Telstra. However, there is one factor which IBM’s cloud computing strategy appears to be lacking at the moment.

Speaking to other vendors and CIOs, it appears that there is a common definition of private cloud computing services evolving in the Australian marketplace. The vision is that of locally hosted datacentres, with virtualised infrastructure, operating systems and even applications accessed through self-service portals, with transparent, even monthly billing and the ability to dial resources up and down as needed.

I would characterise this as a degree of ‘mechanisation’ of vendors’ existing resources. ‘Standardisation’ is another word.

It’s this mechanisation factor which its rivals have been very focused on this year. In contrast, I never get the sense from IBM that the company is interested in providing the type of more standardised services that its rivals are.

If I could characterise the IBM attitude, right now it’s something like: “We can do anything you need”. However, that attitude doesn’t always scale well; it doesn’t tie that well into commonly developed best practice approaches, and I think overall it’s proving a little hard for customers to compare with the more standardised approaches of IBM’s rivals.

I’m not saying here that IBM’s approach is the wrong one; with its depth of resources and its global experience, IBM will for the foreseeable future be involved in cloud computing at many different levels.

However, I do think the company right now needs to think about doing a better job of articulating to the Australian market just what its local private cloud computing strategy is. Otherwise, it will risk being left behind in what is shaping up to be the biggest shake-up of enterprise IT infrastructure we will see in our lifetimes.

Image credit: Patrick H, Creative Commons