IBM is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in cloud computing.
In practice, this means $400 million for two data centres, in North Carolina and Japan. IBM has moved strongly from selling computer hardware to I.T. services and software, and these data centres are very much in keeping with their services strategy.
Two points to note, though. They announced this as part of their Project Big Green, to significantly improve the energy efficiency of data centres.
Second, cloud computing. Is this revolutionary, or just a forward movement of the concept of data service centres? At its most basic, cloud computing is just an Internet-based abstraction of I.T. resources, ie you locate your resources - data (storage) in particular - 'out there' on the Internet, rather than in front of you. It's been done before, in both storage and processing - and more recently in software-as-a-service. In this sense it is merely stepwise progress.
But I would contend (as this article does) that cloud computing is - in totality - more of a paradigm shift. Your traditional EDS-type data centre involved direct links from your head office to your outsourced hardware at an EDS site in Strathfield or somesuch. The abstraction behind cloud computing involves several other factors, including:
- a degradation in transmission efficiency from direct links to IP-based connection;
- different security issues
- a greater flexibility in incrementing (or decrementing) resources
That last is theory; in practice, many organisations may feel more comfortable with some certainty in terms of where their data resources are housed.
But stripped back, cloud computing is simply about having access to your data anywhere, anytime. One of the more dramatic impacts of cloud computing is where it is becoming not just about business - but personal too. My life is rapidly becoming stored as data: music, photos, records, writing, archives, etc. Right now, it's mostly centralised - for practical reasons. But in toto, my data/life is not just stored on my computer: it's also located on my PDA, memory sticks, SD cards, external storage disks, CDs, DVDs, etc. Some of this is not likely to change, and will remain scattered. But I hope to get to a point where I don't have to manage the storage, backup, and retrieval: for my core information (that which is vital, or that which I may want to retrieve on the run), I can just call for it - from the cloud. And as much as anything else, it will be the safest, easiest way to save that which is important to me.
This is all likely to become more and more pervasive. Cloud services will be offered by our telco (ISP), bundled in with existing services. Simple storage is quite commodified already; bandwidth (to upload and download) will not be the bottleneck it once was [I hope this last part is not just bravado on my part! - I suspect bandwidth investment and bandwidth demand will be constantly racing to keep up with each other].
A vision of the future that is available now; only limited by the capacity of service providers to productise supply and do (at least) some (of the) demand-leading. And they have proven pretty adept at that in recent years.