Can IBM make cloud computing safe for the enterprise?

IBM opens the Kimono on its cloud computing strategy as it announces its second CloudBurst appliance -- and some IBM-hosted services to come

When I heard about IBM's first CloudBurst appliance last month, I thought cloud computing had reached new heights of absurdity. I've said it a million times: Cloud computing is mainly the consumption of utility-like services over the Internet. So how exactly is IBM putting that in a CloudBurst box?

The answer lies in IBM's cloud computing announcement today -- and it's not so absurd after all.

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The latest CloudBurst appliance (a preconfigured IBM blade server priced at remarkably specific $207,387) targets development and test. That happens to be same area where cloud computing services -- like those offered by Amazon.com and Google -- have gotten the most traction in enterprises. WIth everything preconfigured and provisioned for developers, IBM can now turn to its most risk-averse customers and say, "See? Now you can get all the convenience of a platform-style cloud service in a box that you own and control."

At the same time, IBM revealed plans to roll out cloud services over the Internet. These will include dev and test, but also, remarkably, desktop virtualization. That's right: According to IBM Cloud Computing CTO Kristof Kloeckner, later this year IBM will offer a Smart Business Desktop Cloud service where IBM actually maintains all those desktop images accessible by customers via thin client. I've been waiting for Microsoft to head in that direction for years, but it looks like IBM will get there first.

Clearly, Kloeckner has done some serious thinking about what a cloud service means to customers, whether maintained locally or consumed over the Internet. "Self-service access is one of the distinguishing features of the cloud," he says. So is "more efficient delivery, easier access, and elimination of unnecessary options." Eventually, he says, CloudBurst appliances will be purpose-built for other areas, including analytics.

But if you ask me, IBM is playing an interesting game, taking big, paranoid enterprises by the hand and leading them down a path toward cloud services maintained by IBM. They don't have to go there -- that's what the appliances are for. But once IBM gets enterprises used to the service model via CloudBurst, who knows how far the commodity, self-service outsourcing of IT will extend?

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