IBM offers ‘on demand’ data-centre remote management

A new service from IBM Corp. lets companies outsource management of their data centre and get billed based on service usage volume — as opposed to upfront fees — without transferring data centre IT assets and employees to the outsourcing provider, IBM announced Wednesday.

Previously, in order to engage IBM in an outsourcing project with flexible usage-based billing, clients had to ferry over to IBM related IT assets and employees, an IBM official said. “This is something we haven’t done before,” said Dev Mukherjee, vice-president of e-business marketing and strategy at IBM Global Services.

The new service, called Strategic Outsourcing Flexible Support Option, will not only offload data-centre management tasks from the client’s IT department, thus saving clients money and freeing the staff to do higher-level work, but also improve the data centre’s operation, he said.

“Existing customer environments are often siloed, especially if the company has gone through acquisitions or implemented a variety of application suites. The company ends up with islands of technology,” he said. “We bring business discipline to turn those islands into a pool of technology. This pooling approach increases data center flexibility and utilization.”

With this new service, IBM’s Global Services unit remotely manages a company’s data centre from an IBM facility, using its Universal Management Infrastructure (UMI), he said. UMI is a combination of systems management, software deployment and configuration management software, architecture workflows and outsourcing methodologies, he said.

Four major steps are involved in rolling out the service for a client, he said:

– First, IBM does a thorough assessment of the client’s data centre, to map the infrastructure and identify ways to improve it;

– second, IBM moves on to consolidating and standardizing the data centre environment, to simplify its management;

– third, UMI, created two years ago and rolled out last year, is deployed to link the client’s data centre with the IBM remote management site;

– and fourth, IBM provides ongoing remote management, most of which is automated, of the client’s entire data centre, or of parts of it, including applications, storage devices, servers and networks.

Pricing varies depending on the scope of the engagement and is based on the number of components being managed and on service usage volumes, he said. This makes it an example of IBM’s “on demand” model, in which clients pay according to usage, an increasingly popular option in the IT industry. This is also referred to as “utility computing,” to indicate that, in this model, clients pay for IT resources in a similar way to which they pay for utilities such as water or electricity.

Strategic Outsourcing Flexible Support Option is available now and has been designed for large and midsize companies, an IBM spokesperson said.

This new IBM service is likely to appeal to chief information officers (CIOs) who want to test the on-demand outsourcing waters without committing to a full-blown engagement, said IDC analyst Doug Chandler. “It could be a first step to a broader outsourcing agreement for some customers who are still feeling their way around the utility model and on demand approach,” he said.

Although remote management isn’t new nor unique, IBM’s new twist here is its offer to manage entire data centres that have a variety of heterogeneous software and hardware products, Chandler said. “In most cases, remote management tends to be much narrower, involving some servers or a network, and it’s typically the vendor of those products the one doing the remote management,” he said. “Here IBM is offering to provide remote management of a data centre environment, as opposed to individual devices, which is what you usually get.”

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