Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Seven Questions for Ric Telford, IBM’s VP of Cloud Services

It wasn’t so long ago that the primary appeal of cloud computing was cost-savings. Companies struggling to slash their operational costs moved their data and applications out of their own back offices and handed them off to cloud providers. Now the question about the cloud is turning in a new direction. CIOs who last year asked, “How much can I save?” are now asking, “What more can I do with it?”

Often they’ll turn to public cloud providers like Amazon or Google or Microsoft. Those are the three names that usually get mentioned in the same breath whenever enterprise cloud services come up. But what about IT giant IBM? It turns out it’s a significant player in the cloud game, offering both public and private cloud services. Last week I sat down with Ric Telford, IBM’s VP of Cloud Services to talk about how Big Blue’s cloud business is going and what its priorities are in the year just started.

NewEnterprise: Ric, let’s start at the top. Tell me how IBM sees the cloud business right now?

Telford: Initially the cloud is all about doing more with less. Suddenly you could deliver the same IT services for less. Fast-forward to today, and it’s not all about saving money. People are realizing they can do things they never could before with the cloud. I was recently met with a small aircraft engineering company, and the guy running it described how he competes with much larger companies for defense contracts. It used to be that doing all the modeling and simulations he needed required buying hardware and software and running it all on premise. Now he can go out to the cloud, pay for what he uses and be done with it. He can now compete for contracts he wouldn’t have been able to go after before. And we’re seeing a lot of examples like that in industry after industry.

Someone said to me the other day that the cloud is going to have to have all the parts of the mainframe. Do you agree with that?

There’s a lot of parallels between the cloud and the mainframe. IBM’s view is that we have a single-reference architecture. It’s the same whether we’re delivering the service or if we build it for you. We did a deal recently with France Telecom where they are going to be a cloud services provider to their clients. They already have the network connections. But they’re not a cloud company. So they’re using IBM’s cloud architecture to give them all the pieces in one easy-to-consume bite. So we have that architecture and we use the same blueprint in all the various permutations of the cloud. For some people it’s confusing, but for us it’s all the same whether you want to have it inside your firewall or outside.

Which do your customers tend to prefer–a private cloud or a public cloud?

We do surveys every year and right now we’re seeing about a two-to-one preference for private versus public. About 60 to 70 percent of respondents say they’re working on a private cloud, and about 30 to 40 say they’re working on the public cloud. To us it’s all the same. We offer a core set of services from the IBM cloud–development, test, compute, storage, collaborations, desktop. But we can also build the same thing inside your firewall.

How big is your public cloud business?

I can’t give you a revenue figure because different business units take advantage of it to deliver different things. We just opened up a delivery center in Research Triangle Park. It’s probably one of the most advanced data centers in the world. And now we’re rolling out a model that we are cloning around the world. We just opened one in Germany and another in Canada. And then we’ll just keep adding them. We manage about eight million square feet of data centers around the world.

How does a company typically get started with the cloud?

Usually I suggest they start with their develop-and-test operations. It’s usually not mission-critical, and there’s usually a lot of hardware that’s not being used. Usually that’s the group that buys hardware long before it’s needed and it ends up sitting idle 90 percent of the time. At IBM we put our whole research division on the cloud because they were the worst hardware hoarders, putting servers under desks and whatnot. They knew that if they needed a new server it would take weeks to get it. Now they go out to the research and compute cloud, and the services they need are usually ready to use in minutes or at most an hour. It just makes a huge difference in people’s ability to get going.

So what you are your priorities for this year?

One of the big things we started seeing last year was an uptake of cloud delivery in industry-specific ways. We’re working not just on the generic things like email and collaboration, but on the specific applications that are used in various industries. Health care, banking and government are a few that have complicated regulatory needs that vary state by state and country by country, and we have the deep understanding required to work with them. We also built a private cloud to help the 29 countries involved in NATO share data on logistics and troop deployments. We also have an initiative with the consumer electronics industry. Utilities is another, and it gets tied in with our Smarter Planet initiatives.

Will IBM be making deals in the cloud this year?

IBM will make a few billion in acquisitions. Cloud is one of the four key growth areas we’re focused on. The others are Smarter Planet, analytics and the growth markets. We’ve said that in those four growth initiatives we’re going for $20 billion in additional revenue by 2014. Four initiatives, five years and $20 billion dollars. That’s certainly not all going to happen organically.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik