Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

IBM Makes a Big Bet on OpenStack in the Cloud

eyebeeem-featureThe open source software for running cloud computing installations just got a big new name in its camp: IBM.

Big Blue announced today that all of its cloud services and software will be based on an open cloud architecture. It’s good news for potential IBM customers because it means they can mix and match service and equipment vendors — Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Rackspace are also big OpenStack fans — without worrying about getting stuck with one.

Its first move will be to spin up a private cloud service based on OpenStack. There’s also some new software, specifically something called IBM SmartCloud Monitoring Application Insight, that’s aimed at monitoring the progress and availability of cloud applications. There are also two other applications coming out, but they’re in beta.

While IBM isn’t the biggest player in the area of cloud services — right now, it’s Amazon’s Web Services — it has been gearing up for a big push into the business, sensing an opportunity. And there is an opportunity: Gartner says the market for cloud services this year will total $131 billion. And while there will certainly be some purists who sniff that “private clouds” aren’t real clouds, the fact is that IBM has about 5,000 customers running their own clouds, or in a mixed public-private environment. These hybrid cloud arrangements are something IBM has been talking about for a few years now.

Looking back in history, it appears that this sort of backing by IBM can have a significant effect. In 2000, Big Blue backed Linux, the open source operating system, as a critical piece of its systems business. A year later, it invested $1 billion in the Linux movement. IBM’s seal of approval over time helped Linux gain acceptance and credibility in big businesses.

For the cloud, it will help nudge the industry toward an accepted standard. A Booz & Company study found that efforts to set standards and craft a working set of best practices for cloud computing has been, at best, fragmented. In its current state, the study argues, with numerous inconsistent and incompatible standards, cloud services won’t evolve, and companies won’t get the benefits they need.

“Everyone is talking about the cloud, but in order for it to have real scale and impact, it’s pretty clear that standards and open source are going to be pretty important,” says Angel Diaz, IBM’s vice president for software standards, open source and high-performance computing. “Without standards, the cloud is going to be complex, not simple, and clients will be stuck with one vendor.”

Ann Winblad, a venture capitalist and a managing director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, a firm that has had a long-term investment interest in open source software and open standards, and has backed companies like Plumgrid and Sonatype, says that OpenStack has essentially become the operating system for the cloud. “I think the trend here is that OpenStack has won the race to become the standard, and it has done it rapidly,” Winblad said. “We’ve made some investments around the software-defined data center, and OpenStack is a key component. It is the OS for the cloud.”

A few other things IBM is doing: It has created a 400-member customer council devoted to cloud standards. The council initially started with only 40 members. It’s also backing the OpenStack Foundation as a platinum member, and contributing a lot of code to OpenStack projects. And it is backing other OpenStack-related standards, like one called Open Service for Lifecycle Collaboration which aims to make it easier to manage software over time, and to use multiple tools for the job together.


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