IBM's 'Bluehouse' Web collaboration service enters free public beta

IBM is fending off a constellation of competition in "cloud computing" with a set of new services for developers and business customers, including "Bluehouse," a Web-based collaboration service which entered public beta today.

IBM announced today that "Bluehouse" -- a new Internet-based collaboration and social networking service based on technology from its Lotus division -- has emerged from private beta testing and is now in the open public beta phase.

Until the commercial rollout of Bluehouse later this year, participation in the new collaboration service will be free of charge for everyone, said Dave Mitchell, director of strategy for IBM Developer Relations, in an interview today with BetaNews.

Mitchell told BetaNews that IBM is approaching increasing rivalry from the likes of Google, Amazon and Microsoft by carving out a position in cloud computing which is especially "broad-based."

In August, IBM announced a $300 million investment in new cloud-oriented data centers which combine "virtual workplaces" -- or complete replications of users' call centers, trading desks, and other desktop environments -- with more traditional data center functions such as server redundancy and recovery.

But also, through new services, IBM is trying to ease implementation of cloud computing for both developers and customers, Mitchell told BetaNews today.

Bluehouse uses mechanisms such as online communities, online meetings, and document and contact sharing to help businesses communicate with other businesses. And unlike more traditional online services from Lotus, BlueCloud requires no software installation on users' PCs, Mitchell said.

IBM is also now offering a number of other cloud services for developers and business customers, all of which have left beta and are now in commercial deployment, he added.

Cloud services specifically for developers include Rational AppScan OnDemand, for scanning Web applications to deal with security bugs, and Rational Policy Test OnDemand, which looks at Web content to detect compliance issues.

IBM's other cloud services include Remote Data Protection; Lotus Sametime Unyte, which focuses on Web conferencing; and Telelogic Focal Point, for sharing information among project management, engineering, marketing, and other teams.

Some of these new services -- such as Focal Point, a service based on technology from Telelogic -- are rooted in IBM acquisitions, whereas others have been internally developed.

Although pricing for most of these cloud services is subscription-based, pricing models vary according to the specific service, he said.

Meanwhile, IBM has almost doubled its numbers of SAAS (software as a service) developer partners during 2008, to a total of 230 today, as compared to 130 at the end of last year.

Mitchell told BetaNews he feels IBM is working more closely now with its ISVs (independent software vendors) to "help understand their concerns." For instance, he illustrated, many developers prefer to host data themselves, instead of having the data hosted at IBM data centers, either because they see advantages to their own geographic presence or because they want physical access to the data.

Integration, rather than security, has appeared as the biggest concern for these developers, Mitchell contended. A year ago, most of IBM's SaaS partners were hosting their applications on IBM hardware at IBM data centers. By now, though, the majority are hosting applications for "the cloud" in their own data centers, using IBM hardware and middleware.

To help business customers integrate cloud computing, IBM has been setting up "SaaS Centers of Excellence" in remote areas such as Korea, India, Vietnam, and Brazil. "In emerging markets," said IBM's strategy director, "there is an increasing desire to use these shared computing resources."

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