IBM floats 'Blue Cloud' data servers

[EP's note: With this story, we welcome one of the most respected bylines in all of technology journalism - correspondent Jacqueline Emigh - to the BetaNews team.]

Giving a nod to the privacy concerns of enterprise customers, IBM today is launching Blue Cloud, a "cloud computing" manifestation enabling companies run data-intensive Web 2.0-class applications directly with their own data centers.

"Some types of enterprises, such as financial services and government, generally prefer to host their own data center applications," acknowledged Dennis Quain, IBM's CTO for high performance solutions, in an interview with BetaNews.

But although Blue Cloud is geared to data center efficiency, Quain told us, its main emphasis is on processing - as opposed to storing - large and complex volumes of data. This is because many enterprises like to keep their information in-house, whether it's being archived or crunched.

Consequently, under Blue Cloud, IBM will be selling specially outfitted blade servers to enterprises, for use on their own premises.

Early customers for Blue Cloud include two financial firms in Asia along with at least one large automotive manufacturer, he said.

Industry analysts agree that many organizations remain resistant to the idea of outside data center hosting. Beyond financial services and government, Blue Cloud ought to hold strong appeal to telecommunications companies and public utilities, suggested David Mitchell, an analyst at Ovum. "Both of these types of companies work with huge amounts of sensitive customer data," Mitchell observed.

Aside from an interest in privacy, prime prospects for Blue Cloud will include companies dealing with workloads that are both compute-intensive and highly variable, according to Mitchell. Companies in this category need to have enough computing capacity available for handling ultra high volume "peak loads" - but on the other hand, much of this generally costly capacity currently stands idle a lot of the time.

IBM's Quain also views Blue Cloud's streamlined blade architecture as a boon to enterprise data centers plagued by problems in area such as heat production and power consumption.

The Blue Cloud introduction today follows the company's earlier kickoff of a cloud computing pilot with six major universities and an announcement that the government of Vietnam is also an IBM cloud computing customer.

In cloud computing, a data center parcels data into chunks that are processed simultaneously by many different computers.

For the most part, the universities are using "clouds" located at three IBM and Google data centers to teach students how to use open source, Eclipse-based development tools for writing computer-intensive applications that can be used with this type of massively parallel system.

Quain predicted that applications of this sort will become increasingly prevalent across areas ranging from social networks to scientific research and other forms of data analysis. He said he doesn't know whether Vietnam's government will host its data in-house or on external servers in its own cloud initiative, which has been formed to spur innovation among citizens, communities, and public agencies.

Initially, Blue Cloud will revolve around sales to enterprises of IBM Power- and x86-based BladeCenter servers, loaded with Linux-based virtual machines, along with Apache Web servers, IBM middleware and DB2 componentry, and IBM Tivoli management tools.

The Blue Cloud servers will also integrate Google's MapReduce technology for processing large amounts of data, said Quain.

IBM plans to announce pricing and availability on the Power- and x86-based servers next year. The first Blue Cloud servers will be followed by further iterations for IBM System z mainframes and other platforms.

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