Big Blue lumbers into cloud computing

Credit: flickr/r3beccaf

Should cloud players worry? Probably not.

It's pretty much a given right now that Amazon's Web Services division is the leader in delivering low-cost infrastructure-as-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service products to anyone who needs them. So who in their right mind would challenge this coffee-drinking behemoth from the Pacific Northwest?

Think blue suits from upstate New York taking on the younger Seattle punks.

That's right, it's looking like IBM has decided to take on Amazon in public cloud computing, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is a pretty big deal, if they can pull it off.

Yes, there's some hesitancy here. You wouldn't think so, given the vast experience that IBM has versus those upstart booksellers. And IBM is very much playing off that experience as it positions itself against Amazon, Google, and Salesforce.com, the other big cloud players in the market.

The WSJ article reports that IBM will be going after the smaller businesses, those that have less than 1,000 employees. That's very much a new market for the company, which typically lives in the enterprise for large-scale computing products.

But I believe it's a market they are going to be unable to win.

With all due respect to IBM, that ship has sailed. Amazon is actually well over the horizon, and Google and Salesforce.com are just barely in sight. Heck, even Microsoft Azure is far ahead, propelled by the sheer force of customers who will let go of Windows only when they're dead.

My lack of confidence in IBM in this particular sector stems from one simple question: what can they bring to a customer? Speed? Availability? The other players have that, to various degrees.

Operating system support? Sure, IBM has that, but why would a customer pay them when they can just get direct support from the Linux distributions?

Application support and cloud management? Have you seen the ecosystem around AWS alone lately? RightScale, Eucalyptus, Scalr… there's plenty of choices here already.

Private cloud deployment? Perhaps, since this is more their bailiwick than Amazon's and Google's. But I just watched a pretty interesting demo of SUSE Cloud's integration of Crowbar to actually make OpenStack easily installable) (about 6:00). I've heard good things aboutApache CloudStack, too.

Price? I have serious doubts that anyone could outlast Amazon in a pricing war for cloud services.

So, whatever IBM is bringing to this party, it had better be pretty good.

IBM's problem here is commoditization. With the ease of use and stability of Linux and all of the other apps that can easily be spun up on an Amazon or Google instance, a lot of the expertise that IBM can bring is rendered somewhat moot. Linux and open source software has made it ridiculously easy to step up public cloud machines, and private cloud is coming along quite nicely.

In this kind of environment, while everyone can give IBM elder-player props, it's a little hard to give them money based on just that alone. Not when there are so many other options out there to choose from.

The old adage about not getting fired for buying IBM is becoming a bit of a relic, as these whippersnapper cloud computing vendors can offer equivalent or better services at a much lower price. Which, in this economy, is worth more than just a big name.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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