Enterprise 2.0: EMC, Google, IBM On Cloud Computing

EMC, Google, and IBM approach the cloud differently but are united behind some common benefits -- and caution about pitfalls.

William Gardner

June 23, 2009

4 Min Read
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It's been a year since the last Enterprise 2.0 gathering and the verdict is in: Cloud computing is for real and it's here to stay. The problem is that no one can define what cloud computing is.

David Berlind, chief content editor of TechWeb, set the stage for an Enterprise 2.0 session on cloud computing by urging the audience not to worry about a definition of cloud computing, but to take advantage of its benefits as they appear in increasing force.

Cloud computing is rolling into many IT shops and the companies delivering it view it from different perspectives. At the session, it became clear that three leading suppliers of cloud computing -- EMC, Google, and IBM --- approach the cloud differently but are united in some common benefits as well as some curses of cloud computing.

To Mike Feinberg, senior VP of EMC's Cloud Infrastructure Group, cloud computing is a "disruptive" technology that encompasses many different aspects of computing. Feinberg noted that many IT users began getting comfortable with storing data off premises in the late 1990s, which has helped prepare them for cloud computing. Today EMC still offers a backup service in the cloud, as well as a series of other cloud offerings.

EMC is pursuing what it calls "cloud-optimized storage" through its multipetabyte EMC Atmos offering, which delivers massive scalability in a user-defined environment. It dictates how, when, and where information resides. "Many people have trouble finding where their data is," said Feinberg, referring to an eternal IT dilemma.

"The value is to do other things and to try new things," said Feinberg, indicating that a large cloud computing configuration can help users experiment without danger. "You can put your toe in the water."

IBM is in a somewhat unusual situation because in a sense it's retrofitting cloud computing to its $20 billion business that runs critical IT infrastructures throughout the world. "We think that the cloud is a new way to solve old problems," said Sean Poulley, IBM's VP online collaboration services.

Google is credited with naming the phenomenon, when chief executive Eric Schmidt talked about "cloud computing" at a conference in 2006. He said: "I don't think people have really understood how big this opportunity really is."

The irony today is that IT professionals still can't define cloud computing, but they're beginning to understand the opportunity involved in it.

Google, of course, has taken advantage of cloud computing through its pervasive Google Apps suite, which covers a brace of applications from Gmail and calendaring to Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Google Video.Rajen Sheth, senior product manager for Google Apps, got a collective laugh from the audience when he displayed a slide showing one of Google's massive data centers of football field-sized buildings. He said: "This is what the cloud actually looks like."

Sheth said cloud computing is becoming so popular with some users that "some companies want to move every last bit of data" to the cloud.

Another speaker, Doug Cornelius, chief compliance officer of Beacon Capital Partners, raised the issue of compliance, and Sheth noted that Google details its legal unit to look into security and compliance issues to protect itself and its users. He observed, for instance, that Google undertakes an annual review of European Community laws. "We'll see if the laws catch up with the technology," he added.

On the security issue, EMC's Feinberg said: "We do encryption and we encourage customers to do encryption." IBM's Poulley cautioned users to protect themselves, too, on security and compliance issues. "The customer is always liable," he said.

Poulley views cloud computing as a disruptive technology but also as a technology that delivers tangible results to its customers. He ticked off a list of client benefits, including a reduction in IT labor costs of 50% and an improved capital utilization of 75%. Provisioning cycle times are being reduced from weeks to minutes by cloud computing, and that helps eliminate software defects and end-user support costs by more than 30%.

Looking into the future, Poulley sees a fundamental shift in how the universe of computer users views computing that is largely traceable to the growth of cloud computing: "The sharing of information is becoming the norm," he said, explaining that new generations of computer users are becoming accustomed to the benefits of sharing information and aren't likely to turn back.

The benefits of cloud computing, Poulley added, will increase in the years ahead as "ubiquitous broadband access enables a whole new class of applications."

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on the state of enterprise storage. Download the report here (registration required).

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