Two technology industry heavyweight CEOs — Google’s Eric Schmidt and IBM’s Sam Palmisano — took the stage together at IBM’s PartnerWorld conference in Los Angeles Thursday to talk up their companies’ cloud computing efforts, first publicly introduced last fall, which they say are still going strong.
The pair come from companies that share a common vision, they said, of a future where most devices will be connected to “the cloud” — the Internet — where applications and services are all delivered from a worldwide network of computers. While most consumer applications will likely remain free, business applications are where the money is, despite the fact that applications and services will be delivered virtually.
The idea is to extend network computing out into the whole world and combine it with the Software as a Service (SaaS) model. IBM and Google have been working on projects with those goals in mind together, even at the CEO levels.
In October, Google and IBM delivered hardware, software and services to several universities, including Carnegie-Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Maryland and the University of Washington.
The idea at the time was to help develop and improve the abilities of computer science students with massively parallel computing practices that use multiple servers to simultaneously process difficult tasks like gene sequencing or climate modeling.
For that project, Google and IBM dedicated a cluster of several hundred computers, — a combination of Google machines and IBM BladeCenter and System x servers — that the companies planned to grow to more than 1,600 processors. The servers run open source software, including Linux, as well as Xen systems virtualization and Apache’s Hadoop project, an open source implementation of Google’s published computing infrastructure, specifically MapReduce and the Google File System (GFS).
More Than Science
What Schmidt and Palmisano revealed on stage, however, is that both companies are interested in using cloud computing to make money. No surprise there, but the two leaders are ready to capitalize on each other’s strengths to help get the job done. For example, Google sees a future where IBM’s reputation with businesses can help drive sales of Google Apps, and IBM, of course, can provide the hardware, additional software, and infrastructure services to tie it all together for enterprises around the globe.
The Vapor in the Clouds
Despite all the industry hoopla over the SaaS business model for the last few years, online services at the enterprise level are not yet dominating the world. There are plenty of challenges — along with opportunity.
“Small and medium businesses (SMBs) are in the best position to adopt and exploit cloud-based services (CBS),” Tom Austin, a Garnter Fellow and chief of software research for Gartner, told LinuxInsider.
“CBS gives SMBs the ability to exploit technology at cost levels below what their larger competitors can get down to. Big firms have better economies of scale than littler ones, but CBS helps level the playing field or maybe even tilts it toward consumers of cloud based services,” he explained. The next generation of cloud services, he noted, will be applications that are well understood and are aggressively priced — essentially commodity functions that will turn a profit for providers due to the economies of scale in delivering them.
“CBS has its own set of problems,” Austin noted. “There are ‘autonomic roadblocks’ in the repertoire of any IT professional that CBS trips. CBS generate control, security, regulatory and compliance red flags that it takes time to get over,” he explained, noting that on a deeper level, CBS business practices are not particularly mature when it comes to integrating multiple cloud-based services together.
“Who takes responsibility? What are the service level agreements? How can you avoid finger pointing?” he noted.
The cloud, in one from or another, has already been around for 30 years, Austin said, but he expects CBS to take off in the next 3 to 5 years. “But it isn’t about to kill in-house IT,” he added. “Five years from now, CBS will still be a minority of what’s consumed in the enterprise — a healthy minority and a fast-growing one.”