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If compute clouds want to succeed as businesses instead of toys, they have to run the same commercial software that IT departments deploy internally on their own servers. Which is why a deal struck between IBM and Amazon's Web Services subsidiary is important, perhaps more so for Amazon than for Big Blue.

Today, IBM announced that it would be deploying a big piece of its database and middleware software stack on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service. The software that IBM is moving out to EC2 includes the company's DB2 and Informix Dynamic Server relational databases, its WebSphere Portal and sMash mashup tools, and its Lotus Web Content Management program. This stack is being deployed on instances of Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, which is in turn deployed on EC2, which itself is based on Linux servers with Xen hypervisors providing virtual machine slices.

IBM is offering so-called "machine images" of this software on the EC2 cloud immediately to developers, which is not intended to support production workloads but to allow them to create pre-production code and gain some familiarity of using the EC2 compute cloud and related storage clouds, like S3 (Simple Storage Service) and EBS (Elastic Block Service).

IBM says it will offer full-machine images of this software intended for production workloads in beta "in the coming months." The company did not indicate when it would have commercial-grade support for its own software when running on the Amazon cloud infrastructure, but it would probably be summer or later. IBM says that it is currently tweaking its Tivoli system management and provisioning software to deal with EC2 and storage clouds.

IBM says that it will announce pricing for the production versions of its software running on EC2 when it is ready for primetime. So you have to wait for pricing. But the company did give some guidance on how it would be priced. As you can see from this table, IBM will be using the Processor Value Unit (PVU) utility pricing model for its software, which debuted two years back on its own and other manufacturer's servers. A small instance on EC2 with a single virtual core is rated at 50 PVUs, which is the same rating that x64 processor cores are rated at.

A large EC2 instance with two virtual cores on EC2 is rated at 100 PVUs, and an extra large instance with four virtual cores is rated at 200 PVUs. That dual-virtual core EC2 image is rated at the same PVUs as a single core is on an Itanium, Power5, PA-RISC, or UltrasSparc/Sparc64 server. Ditto for the System z9 mainframe engines, which have a 100 PVU rating per core.

IBM's Power6 machines are rated at 120 PVUs, except on blade servers, where I/O is constrained and IBM only rates the Power6 blades at 80 PVUs. IBM's System z10 mainframes are also rated at 120 PVUs per core. IBM is also allowing customers to deploy its software on what Amazon calls high-CPU instances of its EC2 slices, which have more CPU oomph and less main memory. A high-CPU EC2 instance in an extra large configuration - which has eight virtual EC2 cores and 1.7 GB of memory on a 64-bit x64 server, is rated at 400 PVUs.

The PVU ratings do not bear a strong relationship to the performance of the underlying iron. But this is the impression that IBM's utility pricing scheme wants to convey, just as does similar pricing mechanisms from its competitors in the software racket. At best, there is a very loose correlation between PVUs and performance.

The interesting twist on the Amazon-IBM deal is that Big Blue is going to let companies that have already bought software licenses run that software out on the EC2 cloud, once the offering is generally available.

The EC2 cloud already supports a bunch of different commercial software. Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Fedora, Oracle Enterprise Linux, openSUSE, Gentoo, Debian, and Ubuntu Linuxes can be deployed on EC2, and so can OpenSolaris Unix and Windows Server 2003. Oracle 11g, MySQL Enterprise, SQL Server 2005, and SQL Server Express databases can be deployed on EC2, and Sun's Java Application Server, Red Hat's JBoss Enterprise, and Ruby on Rails can also be loaded on cloud slices. The funny bit is that Amazon is charging a premium for Windows slices compared to Linux or Unix. That premium ranges from 20 to 50 per cent, depending on the size of the slice. ®

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