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IBM makes like Amazon with 'SmartClouds'

The enterprise and beyond

Big Blue has finally rolled out its first public infrastructure cloud for commercial clients, and it's promising to deliver another with even higher levels of guaranteed uptime later this year.

The Smart Business Clouds are based on IBM's own x64-based CloudBurst preconfigured stacks, which come in x64 and Power variants, running in a number of cloud data centers it has set up around the globe. Called SmartCloud for short, they'll come in Enterprise and Enterprise+ editions.

IBM's Global Technology Services, the larger part of the Global Services behemoth, is selling the cloudy service, although there's plenty of hardware and software from Big Blue's other units underneath these infrastructure clouds.

The SmartCloud Enterprise infrastructure cloud, available now, is comprised of x64-based servers only. It comes with a 99.5 per cent uptime service level agreement (SLA), which Tim Koundais director of cloud computing at IBM, tells El Reg is sufficient uptime for a number of today's workloads running in data centers and data closets.

IBM is supporting Microsoft Windows 2003 and 2008, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4 and 5.5, and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise 11 on the virtual server slices in the SmartCloud Enterprise cloud. These operating systems are available in either 32-bit or 64-bit images, whichever you prefer.

The SmartCloud Enterprise+ offering, which will be available sometime in the second half of this year, allows for customers to buy slices of x64 or Power servers, and run their applications on them. IBM also jacks up the SLA to 99.9 per cent availability, and will no doubt charge a premium for that extra availability when pricing is announced along with availability. It will be interesting to see what kind of premium, if any, IBM will try to charge for running software on top of logical partitions on its own Power Systems machinery.

IBM chose Red Hat's KVM-based Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization as the hypervisor layer in its Smart Business Development and Test on the IBM Cloud service, which launched in March 2010 and which is based on x64 servers. Big Blue is, however, using VMware's latest ESXi hypervisor on its production SmartClouds based on x64 processors.

At the moment, most of IBM's enterprise clients – and the ones who are most likely to buy SmartCloud capacity – are using VMware hypervisors. Over time and given customer demand, it is reasonable to assume that IBM will support KVM as well as Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisors, but IBM made no such commitments this week. It is not clear how IBM is helping customers move applications from the dev/test cloud to the production infrastructure clouds, but they will need to convert from KVM to ESX images. Obviously.

On the Power Systems side of the Smart Cloud Enterprise+ cloud, IBM is using its own PowerVM hypervisor to carve up virtual server slices. IBM is supporting its own AIX Unix operating system variant on the Power machines, as well as RHEL and SLES.

Ric Telford, vice president of cloud services at Global Technology Services, says that IBM understands that there is a requirement to support its own IBM i (formerly known as OS/400) proprietary operating system on the Smart Cloud Enterprise+ cloud, but did not offer any estimate of when this might be available.

IBM did not say when or if it might create clouds based on its high-end System z mainframes. Doing so might turn its installed base of buying customers back into the rental base it had in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, which would actually be quite funny – although IBM would no doubt figure out how to make money either way.

In addition to selling raw capacity on its SmartClouds at a per-VM, per-hour basis, there is a catalog of IBM middleware, groupware, and database software, plus some code from third parties such as Kaavo for cloud management and Aviarc for Web application development. IBM is also selling support services to manage the code above to the hypervisor, including the operating system and other code in the SmartCloud self-service catalog.

Unlike most services offerings from Big Blue, the SmartCloud Enterprise infrastructure cloud has published list prices. IBM has on-demand pricing and reserved capacity options on an hourly basis, similar to what Amazon offers for its EC2 compute cloud. The SmartCloud Enterprise+ cloud will add managed production services and have multiple levels of security isolation on the multi-tenant cloud, and will be available on a monthly or fixed-contract basis, not an hourly on-demand basis.

Like Amazon EC2, there are multiple virtual-machine configurations that customers can buy on IBM's SmartCloud, designated by the name of increasingly valuable metals from copper to platinum.

On a 32-bit machine, VMs scale from one to four virtual cores running at an effective 1.25GHz, from 2GB to 4GB of virtual memory, and from 60GB to 350GB of virtual storage. IBM is charging a premium for RHEL slices: 15.4 cents per hour in a base Copper configuration. On 64-bit slices, you get from 2 to 16 virtual cores running at 1.25GHz, from 4GB to 16GB of memory, and from 60GB to 2TB of disk.

In general, IBM's pricing for SmartCloud slices is higher than what Amazon is charging for EC2, but depending on the size and bitness of the slice, the operating system, and the support options, you are talking anywhere from a low of 5.9 cents per hour for a 32-bit Copper instance running SLES to $1.84 per hour for a Platinum instance running RHEL. (El Reg is cooking up a detailed comparison of the EC2 and SmartCloud Enterprise clouds.) You can also buy additional persistent blocks of storage at a few pennies per hour for 256GB and larger chunks.

If you want to play around with some scenarios, IBM has an online cloud workload estimator.

IBM is setting up the SmartCloud Enterprise infrastructure clouds in a number of its global cloud centers. The centers in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Boulder, Colorado, will serve customers buying cloudy capacity from Big Blue in the United States, and a center in Toronto, Ontario, will service Canadian customers. A center located in Ehningen, Germany, will serve all of EMEA, and Asian customers will have access to centers in Singapore and another outside of Tokyo. ®

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