Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Seven More Questions for Ric Telford, VP of IBM Cloud Services

IBM announced a significant push into cloud computing services yesterday, launching its new Smartcloud platform, which is aimed at giving large companies access to a level of cloud services that they can relate to.

While startups and small and mid-sized companies love cloud services–the list of companies that simply wouldn’t exist were it not for Amazon Web Services is long–larger companies have tended to view the cloud with suspicion and anxiety. It’s not in their nature to hand off their data and applications to someone else. Yet often keeping those things on-premise means bearing the expense and hassle of having to maintain all the infrastructure.

In this case IBM is doing what it does best, taking the new technologies and whipping them into shape so that they’re secure enough, stay online enough, and are flexible enough that large enterprises can feel comfortable with them. If it works, IBM hopes to generate $7 billion in revenues from cloud services by 2015. If that turns out to be the case, by then IBM would control about half the cloud services market. As Dow Jones mentioned yesterday, market researcher In-Stat is predicting that managed cloud services will account for about $13 billion in sales by 2014.

I caught up with Ric Telford, IBM’s VP for Cloud Services yesterday a few minutes before he was to speak at a company event announcing the initiative. You may remember that I talked with Telford in January in a conversation where he hinted at some of things that Big Blue announced yesterday.

NewEnterprise: So Ric, there’s a lot you’re announcing today. Let’s start at the top. What’s the big thing you want people to come away with from IBM today?

Telford: The highlight is what we call the customer-driven cloud. We’ve worked through thousands of customer engagements and we’ve realized that one size does not fit all. Different clients have different thing they’re looking as they work with the cloud. There’s different workloads, different security concerns, and different availability concerns. We want to customize the cloud to their needs. What you’re seeing today is a broad variety of technologies and services to address the different adoption models that we’re seeing. There’s highly secure public clouds, shared public infrastructure, dedicated public infrastructure. It’s a matter of understanding what the customer needs and being able to respond with a broad set of solutions.

When we talked in January, we talked a bit about the mix of public and private clouds. You said a lot of your customers tended to be more interested in private clouds than public clouds. It looks like you’re addressing those concerns today.

The one we we talked about is building a private cloud, so one of the announcements today is something advance the technology in building a private cloud with something we call workload deployer. In a nutshell, what it does is radically simplifies the process of deploying an application to your private cloud. If you’re dealing with an application on six servers, it will handle all the heavy lifting for you. You can deploy it as one thing it will set up those servers for you. So advancing the private cloud, because as we talked about before, that’s important to a lot of our clients.

And yet for all that preference for private clouds, you’re still mixing in a fair presence of public cloud services.

Right. We’re working on the hybrid cloud model by making it easier to integrate a private cloud with the public cloud. And so we’re making it easier and more palatable to move some workloads to the public clouds. That’s what we call Smartcloud Enterprise Plus. The name is a mouthful, but it’s a basically a set of options that our clients didn’t have before to move to the public cloud. They can choose a more dedicated infrastructure that’s hosted by IBM, so they’re not sharing as much with others. They can get a lot of service-level guarantees. A lot of public cloud providers won’t give you a service level agreement. We will. And there’s a lot of services that we provide, that the clients typically would have to do themselves. Like monitoring applications. We’ll monitor it for you so that you can alerted if the application goes down. Those are services that clients have been looking for, and its one of the things that have prevented them from moving the public cloud.

That’s an old IBM trick. You make new technologies palatable to businesses. You did it way back in the day with the PC. Is that essentially what you’re doing here?

You bet. You think back to the PC, or what we did with Linux or with e-commerce services. A lot of businesses were wary of those things and IBM came in and understood what their concerns were and addressed them. We’re doing the same thing with enterprise cloud. We get why companies are worried, and we’re trying to address their concerns.

You’re also making an effort with a bunch of other companies on standards. Can you tell me what that’s about?

It’s actually another one of those concerns that businesses have. We asked our customers what the top five or ten reasons that they were inhibited by adopting the cloud and one of them was vendor lock-in. They’re concerned that if they go to the public cloud, they’re going to be tied to a set of particular interfaces, and they won’t be able to move that application off that vendor’s cloud service. Our view is that we should compete on the technology, not the interfaces.

So what do you suggest?

When companies look at moving their workloads to the cloud, they see that each vendor has a different API, and a different set of interfaces they have to write to use that cloud. They all have a set of proprietary interfaces, and I think what they’d like to see is something more standardized. So why not open the interfaces so that you can write to a cloud interface, and then you can deploy to any cloud provider that supports that open standard? We participate in existing open standards organizations like the DMTF, who are looking at what cloud standards should be. We then formed an open standards customer council, so we hear back from them about what they think the standards should be. Then we donated our reference architecture to The Open Group to use as a basis for discussion on what a cloud computing architecture needs to contain.

So it’s going to be a lot easier if I come to IBM for cloud services and later on decide to move to another vendor eventually I’ll be able to do that easily right?

Right, or if you just want to expand your redundancy, so you can switch back and forth. There would be a common interface so that you can switch back and forth and bother to think about which vendor you’re using because the interfaces are all the same.

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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