IBM fully behind OpenStack for clouds

In the race for vendor dominance in enterprise cloud computing, IBM Corp. is placing its bet behind open architectures, and in particular the OpenStack operating system for creating and managing public and private clouds.

The company said Monday that from now on its cloud services and software will be based on OpenStack and not proprietary technology.

IBM has been an early backer of OpenStack as it developed: this announcement means the technology will increasingly be found in IBM software.

“We have made the decision to fully adopt OpenStack in our products and services,” Robert Leblanc, senior vice-president of IBM Software, told reporters in a conference call. IBM “will be sitting here on top of set of OpenStack standards” with various tools and services.

The technology has reached “a level of maturity and innovation” to base new cloud products on.

IT departments work in a world of interoperability is important, he explained, and cloud innovation will rely on the ability to bring various public and private services together. To do that, he said, organizations will want “plug and play” solutions.

As proof of its word IBM released SmartCloud Orchestrator, which it says lets companies deploy workloads across public and private clouds. Because it is built on OpenStack any hypervisor can be used for the compute, storage or networking stack.

Orchestrator also supports emerging standards like TOSCA, a topology and orchestration specification for cloud apps that enable the creation of workload “patterns” that work across public and private clouds.

SmartCloud Orchestrator lets IT build new cloud services “in minutes,” IBM said, by automating application deployment and lifecycle management in the cloud, including compute, storage and network configuration, human task automation and integration with third party tools. SmartCloud Orchestrator will also include the ability to measure the cost of cloud services with metering and charge-back capabilities.

“Having an organization like IBM get very deeply involved in OpenStack and make it a core part of their cloud strategy is a huge thing for our community,” OpenStack Foundation executive director Jonathan Bryce told reporters of IBM’s decision. IBM is a founding partner of the foundation, along with Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat Inc., SUSE Linux, service provider Rackspace, U.S. carrier AT&T and Canonical (sponsor of Ubuntu Linux).

As an “operating system,” OpenStack alone won’t give an enterprise business value, he said. Other tools and applications running on top of it have to do that, he said, some of which will come from IBM.

Leblanc noted that IBM already the Open Standard for Lifecyle Collaboration, a Cloud Standards Customer Council (which now has 400 members) as well as open standards like Linked Data in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and TOSCA in the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), to enhance cloud application portability.

Given IBM’s early support for OpenStack there’s no surprise it’s gone all in on the platform, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research.

Still, he said it’s an important initiative for IBM considering how big it is in data centres. “Having IBM support gives customers assurance it is being supported by mainstream vendors and not something supported by the venture capital community.”

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IBM’ endorsement is not necessarily a blow for the competing CloudStack platform, he added, because it is favoured by telecommunications companies rather than enterprises.

But IBM’s move does hurt VMware Inc.  and its vCloud Suite for cloud management, said James Staten, a cloud technology analyst at Forrester Research.

IBM [NYSE: IBM] is a little behind Hewlett-Packard Co. [NYSE: HPQ] in OpenStack product support. Staten noted that last year HP was the first major software company to get behind OpenStack. HP’s public cloud service is OpenStack-based, he pointed out, whereas IBM’s SmartCloud infrastructure as a service platform is not. However, Leblanc told reporters OpenStack will eventually become a part of it.

On the other hand, Staten added, HP hasn’t put OpenStack in its enterprise software yet.

The fact is, Staten said “most enterprises aren’t ready for true cloud, and that’s one of the things IBM is going to try to change.”  

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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