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IBM Takes on AWS

It previewed a piece of beta software called SmartCloud Orchestrator for managing enterprise-grade clouds

Big Blue put its back into OpenStack Monday at its Pulse conference in Las Vegas, almost a year after lending its name to the open source cloud platform started by Rackspace and NASA - which has abandoned it.

It announced that "its cloud services and software will be based on an open cloud architecture."

It said it's doing it in the name of open standards, arguing that "this move will ensure innovation in cloud computing is not hampered by locking businesses into proprietary islands of unsecured and difficult-to-manage offerings. Without industry-wide open standards for cloud computing, businesses will not be able to fully take advantage of the opportunities associated with interconnected data, such as mobile computing and Big Data." Ah, FUD.

Basically IBM has declared war on Amazon Web Services and its de facto standards.

Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus, Amazon's open source private cloud partner, and the former CEO of MySQL, scoffed, "I believe (as I have believed for three years now) that the AWS cloud abstractions are what ‘IBM-compatible' was in the '80s and what Linux and the LAMP stack stood for 10 years ago."

Rob Enderle, a consultant who does work for IBM, wrote that "It's strange to see IBM as being the underdog in any fight, but super-aggressive price-cutting by has kept that company well ahead in the market for public cloud services." These same price cuts, he claimed, have kept the market for public and hybrid clouds from developing.

IBM's first sally against Amazon was to preview a piece of beta software called SmartCloud Orchestrator for managing enterprise-grade clouds that it says is based on open cloud standards including OpenStack. Orchestrator's job is to give the enterprise a tool to build cloud services that can be ported across hybrid cloud environments.

IBM says organizations won't have to develop specific interfaces for different cloud services. Orchestrator is supposed to quickly combine and deploy various cloud services onto the cloud infrastructure by lining up the compute, storage and network resources with an easy-to-use graphical interface.

Blue says the widgetry will let users:

  • Build new cloud services in minutes by combining the power of pattern-based cloud delivery, with a graphical orchestrator for simple composition of cloud automation;
  • Reduce operational costs by automating application deployment and lifecycle management in the cloud: compute, storage and network configuration, human task automation, integration with third-party tools, all delivered by an integrated cloud management platform; and
  • Simplify the end-user consumption of cloud services via an intuitive self-service portal, including the ability to measure the cost of cloud services with metering and charge-back capabilities.

Robert LeBlanc, IBM's senior VP of software, reflected that "History has shown that standards and open source are hugely beneficial to end customers and are a major catalyst for innovation. Just as standards and open source revolutionized the web and Linux, they will also have a tremendous impact on cloud computing. IBM has been at the forefront of championing standards and open source for years, and we are doing it again for cloud computing. The winner here will be customers, who will not find themselves locked into any one vendor - but be free to choose the best platform based on the best set of capabilities that meet their needs."

IBM is counting on getting the same kind of quiet edge it got by being an early backer of Linux.

LeBlanc is appealing to the open source comfort blanket. OpenStack isn't just supported by IBM, but by Red Hat, Rackspace, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and telecom companies of every national stripe. IBM's willing to let customers mix-and-match services and equipment from other OpenStack vendors figuring it'll still wind up ahead.

Oracle, Google, Salesforce and, of course, Amazon aren't in the OpenStack camp. Although OpenStack is antithetically opposed to VMware, both VMware and EMC wimped out and signed up last year. VMware has subsequently done some integration.

Big Blue marshaled the chi-chi Booz & Company, which recently ran up a report contending that for cloud computing to grow like Topsy - or like the Internet - vendors must stop creating new cloud services that are incompatible, warning that without a more concerted effort to agree on standards, and leadership on the part of major companies, the promise of cloud computing may never be reached. More FUD.

Orchestrator is reportedly the result of customer demand. IBM now has 400 members on its Cloud Standards Customer Council. It's also reportedly got 500 developers dedicated to open cloud projects (Is that a lot?). It claims to be one of the top code and design contributors to all OpenStack projects and has been driving cloud standards such as Open Service for Lifecycle Collaboration, Linked Data in the W3C and TOSCA in OASIS to enhance cloud application portability.

It also claims to be one of the world's largest private cloud vendors with more than 5,000 private cloud customers in 2012, up 100% year-over-year. Its cloud portfolio, called SmartCloud, is based on a common code of interoperability so clients can move between IBM's private, hybrid and public cloud services.

Orchestrator, which is described by Daniel Frye, VP of IBM's open systems SmartCloud development, the company's Linux chief, as a "public cloud offering," will be available sometime later this year. It manages public and private resources across compliant vendors.

Frye says in a piece in Wired that "simply going with a vendor that has cornered a majority of the market doesn't reap the same benefits. Vendor lock-in, even with a major vendor, still subjects you to interoperability headaches, price hikes and a lack of common infrastructure."

And so the lines are draw.

AWS is thought to be wracking in over $2 billion a year these days.


More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at) or paperboy(at), and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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