IBM churns up CloudBurst clouds
Not raining on Google and Amazon parades
Cloud computing must be real - IBM is going to try to start making real money selling pre-configured clouds to enterprises for their internal use, targeting very specific workloads running on x64 servers to start and eventually encompassing its Power and mainframe systems.
IBM has been dabbling in and doing research on cloud computing for the past two years - including some joint work it has done with Google - and has years of On Demand utility computing under its belt before the more slippery and malleable cloud model stole the IT show.
You can debate about whether what IBM is announcing today with its CloudBurst cloud infrastructure and its related Smart Business cloud services are truly cloud computing: in a sense, they are not. But that said, what IBM is building and hoping to sell is one of the few ways that companies will probably feel comfortable moving toward cloud computing until they get a little more experience with this approach to running applications.
Cloud computing was supposed to not only encompass a specific way of acquiring computing and storage capacity - you pay for what you use, you get capacity turned on and off almost instantly to minimize the cost, and you have access to lots of capacity for when you need it - but also was, by some definitions, to be based on a more fluid and usually distributed kind of programming. Companies like to keep control of their servers and the applications and data that run on them, so even if they could upload their ERP systems onto the Amazon EC2 or the Google Apps clouds, they probably wouldn't. Maybe someday, but not today.
What Big Blue reckons IT shops will buy are preconfigured stacks of servers and storage that are integrated and easier to manage than piecemeal parts. IBM is not trying to sell aggregations of virtual server slices that are compatible with those being peddled by Amazon, Google, and others in their clouds, but rather giving companies the infrastructure and services to make their own internal clouds based on VMware's prior ESX Server 3.5 hypervisor and related tools.
It is only a matter of time before IBM supports VMware's vSphere 4.0 stack on its CloudBurst configurations; vSphere was launched  on April 21 to much fanfare and started shipping on May 21. It will take months for server makers and end user companies certify vSphere, and given the substantial scalability and performance benefits of the ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor, you can be sure IBM wanted to launch its CloudBurst stack on this hypervisor. But so it goes in the server racket.
The basic CloudBurst hardware setup will look familiar to many of IBM's server customers. IBM takes 1 42U rack, chucks in a BladeCenter blade server chassis and a System x 3650 M2 server. The x3650 M2, which is based on Intel's new "Nehalem EP" quad-core processors, has 48 GB of main memory and is set up as a management server for the cloud infrastructure. There is also an HS22 Nehalem-based blade server in the chassis that is designated as a management blade inside the chassis, plus three HS22 blades to support ESX Server hypervisors and their operating system and application workloads.
All of the HS22 blades have 48 GB of main memory on them. There's room for another ten blades in that initial chassis for customers to expand their computing capacity, and multiple chasses can be added to the rack and multiple racks to the data center as the cloud grows. The blades also get a DS3400 midrange disk array that links to the blades through Fibre Channel.
On the software side, of this CloudBurst setup is VMware's ESXi 3.5 embedded hypervisor, which is stored on an internal flash drive that plugs into each HS22 blade. The System x management server and the HS22 management blade is loaded up with IBM's Tivoli Provisioning Manager V7.1 and Monitoring V6.2.1 as well as its Systems Director 6.1.1 system management tool, which includes active energy manager, which controls the power capping feature of IBM's servers.
The software stack also includes IBM's ToolCenter 1.0, DS Storage Manager V10.36, and an LSI SMI-S provider for the DS3400 array. The whole shebang is orchestrated with something called the CloudBurst V1.1 service management pack, the secret sauce that apparently turns this from a rack of virtualized servers and storage and into a cloud. Some of this secret sauce probably made it into the CloudBurst WebSphere deployment appliance that IBM announced  back in May.
No more hanging around for tests?
List price for the initial CloudBurst setup is $207,387, and if you pay for it with 36-month financing from IBM Global Financing, that works out to $5,750 per month if you have a great credit rating. IBM is, as you might expect, peddling a set of "quick start" services for the CloudBurst gear that has IBM or its partners put the gear into your data center, configure it and setup user profiles, configure the self-service portal (one of the things that makes this a cloud and that is part of the CloudBurst service management pack), and train people to use this. The main innovation, as far as the bean counters are concerned, is that this all comes with a single invoice.
As has been the case with the virtualization wave that has been swamping the x64 server space for the past seven years, IBM is at first focusing its cloud offerings on two environments: application development and testing and end user desktops. The CloudBurst V1.1 software includes a self-service portal, which allows application developers and testers to spin up and spin down virtual machines to create n-tier application stacks as they create and test applications. IBM reckons that anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent of the iron at enterprise shops is devoted to development and test, and that developers usually have to wait weeks to get access to a machine that has been set up by administrators to do their tests.
One of the reasons why VMware has broken through the $1bn barrier is because waiting that long for a configuration is insane. The CloudBurst stack also includes automatic provisioning and decommissioning of servers and storage as developers start and stop their tests.
Customers can do whatever they want with this CloudBurst iron, but IBM would like to sell another layer of software and services on top of it that bear the Smart Business label - the same moniker that it is using for its server appliances for SMB customers. One Smart Business offering lets customers build their own development and test cloud behind their own firewall, built by IBM and using the customers' development tools atop the CloudBurst setup detailed above, and the other (which is now in preview and not yet available) will run IBM's own Rational tools on a CloudBurst setup in IBM's own data centers, allowing customers to rent time on the public cloud that IBM is building.
On the desktop virtualization front, IBM will take the CloudBurst setup, drop it into your data center, and configure it to run virtualized desktops. The company will support virtual desktop middleware from either VMware or Citrix Systems, as well as solutions from Desktone, Quest, and Wyse. As with the dev and test cloud, IBM will setup the CloudBurst iron in your shop with the virtual PC software to stream down to client desktops today, and in the future it will allow you to buy time on an IBM CloudBurst setup to host your desktops remotely over IBM's public cloud.
The CloudBurst stack of hardware and software will be available on June 19. Eventually, IBM says that it will provide CloudBurst configurations based on its Power Systems servers running AIX, i, and Linux and using its PowerVM hypervisor well as its mainframes and their LPAR logical partitioning. These both are expected later in 2009, but IBM was not more precise about when.
The main thing is that whatever is woven into these clouds, they will be self-contained, will be aimed at specific workloads, will come with a single price tag, and will be able to tap into IBM's own public clouds when and if customers run out of capacity on their internal clouds. ®