Following the lead of IBM, Amazon, and Google, AT&T on Tuesday said it is entering the cloud computing market with the worldwide launch of a new service called AT&T Synaptic Hosting.
AT&T is putting together the application hosting service with technology from USinternetworking and five datacenters located in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The company plans to add more to the cloud service over time.
[ Read the related story about Dell's bid to trademark "cloud computing" and learn more about what cloud computing really means and the new breed of utility computing and platform-as-a-service offerings. ]
Like other offerings, AT&T's system employs a virtualized storage and server pool that manages resources in response to demand, such as adding capacity in the event of a usage spike. In another similarity, the service is priced on a pay-as-you-go basis, although specific costs weren't immediately available Tuesday.
Customers will be able to manage their accounts through an AT&T portal. A service-level agreement guarantees 99.5 to 99.9 percent uptime, and customers are guaranteed a response from AT&T support staff within 15 minutes to one hour "depending on incident severity," according to a data sheet.
The telecom also said it plans to use the platform underneath various other services it provides, such as content delivery and image retrieval.
AT&T's rival Verizon is also planning a cloud-computing service, which is reportedly set to launch in early 2009.
An industry observer tied AT&T's move to its inherent technological advantage over competitors like Amazon.
"It's a natural business for some of the larger providers to get into simply because one of the big aspects of the cloud is not just computing but the bandwidth," said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk. "If you're a telecom provider, since you're at the nexus of one of the demand points, you'd want to get into that business."
One player in the cloud-computing space said AT&T's announcement will have a two-fold effect.
"Regardless of whether or not AT&T offers anything of substance, the release can only help maintain a level of cloud hype already in full effect," said Reuven Cohen, chief technologist of Toronto vendor Enomaly, maker of the open source Enomalism Elastic Computing Platform, on his blog.
"[It] seems the telecom biz is quickly becoming a poster child for cloud computing. Which is great given their regionalized positions ... Having the ability to geographically scale will be made a lot easier if every country's telecom provider offers localized cloud services," Cohen added.
Meanwhile, as the options for cloud computing proliferate, some observers have argued about how the model is best defined. In a recent blog post "15 Ways to tell It's Not Cloud Computing," RedMonk analyst James Governor asserted that services without features such as an API, or that require installing software, are not clouds.
And InfoWorld writer Peter Wayner recently reviewed a series of services billed as cloud computing and found a range of differences.
Wayner's report, which includes detailed information on pricing and supported technologies, also concluded that cloud services may be able to spool out additional CPU power on demand, but do little if anything to fix the real reason for poor application performance -- mistakes made at the programming and architectural level.