So…what is Blue Cloud? As IBM put it to the press two weeks ago, Blue Cloud is a series of Internet-based offerings that companies will be able to integrate into their data centers. These offerings could be small and discrete, such as a Web service to check the credit rating of a customer. They could also be large and generalized, such as an environment for developing a collaborative portal, complete with mashups, wikis, and discussion forums. Either way, the offerings will reside on a massive IBM-hosted computing grid made up of thousands of virtual Linux system images. As customers access Blue Cloud offerings on the grid, IBM's
One of the key characteristics of Blue Cloud will be its use of open standards and open-source software. As I already mentioned, Blue Cloud offerings will run on Linux system images. Many offerings will make full or partial use of open-source code. They will communicate with IT systems via interfaces that are based on open standards, such as those that utilize XML or are promulgated by the Web Services Interoperability Organization.
To put all this another way, Blue Cloud is an IBM effort to help companies expand the capabilities and performance of their IT systems without expanding their data centers. Want to analyze your sales orders to discover the ideal cross-selling strategy? Instead of building a data warehouse to do it, why not rent one (along with the virtual servers, analysis tools, and implementation services) from Blue Cloud? Need to develop a more flexible and resilient supply chain? You might just load your bill of materials into a Blue Cloud offering that would generate lists of alternate suppliers and a logistics optimization strategy.I realize that these scenarios may sound like pipe dreams, but this is where IBM plans to take Blue Cloud. The company will take its first public steps in this direction this coming spring when it rolls out the first Blue Cloud services.
Is Blue Cloud on the System i Horizon?
While it may not seem like it at first face, Blue Cloud may be the start of some significant changes for the System i community. From what sources close to IBM are telling me, the initiative could be the first of several steps on the company's part to become a leading provider of Software as a Service (SaaS). Over time, Blue Cloud could evolve into a platform not only for IBM-written Web services, but also for the SaaS offerings of IBM's partners. This would make Blue Cloud similar in some respects to Salesforce.com's AppExchange, a body of "on demand" applications written by developers for the company's Force.com platform. However, Blue Cloud would extend beyond the boundaries of any single application platform to encompass a much broader portfolio of services.
At the same time, IBM could develop industry-standard technologies for accessing Blue Cloud services. These technologies may eventually be integrated into the company's systems and software offerings. This would promote the use of Blue Cloud services among IBM's customers.
What intrigues me about these potential uses of Blue Cloud are the ways in which they could take the System i value proposition and reframe it in the context of SaaS, open-source code, and Web 2.0 computing. IBM designed the System i and its predecessors to integrate and simplify the data center for small and medium-sized businesses. On a similar note, Blue Cloud could be IBM's first step to integrate and simplify the rapidly expanding world of Internet-based technologies and services outside of the data center. Through Blue Cloud, IBM could make it easy for businesses to create service-oriented architectures and consume Web services without having to master the complexities of these technologies.
Naturally, this raises a number of $64,000 questions for System i professionals. Will the System i be able to consume Blue Cloud services? If so, how will IBM enable it to do so? Could System i software vendors eventually develop Blue Cloud services that will augment or replace existing applications? I could easily ask a dozen more questions and am certain that each of you could as well.
In short, Blue Cloud may be the first step in what could become a major paradigm shift for the company and the System i community. Then again, this particular cloud may just turn out to be a cloud. I can assure you that, over the course of 2008, I'll be watching this story closely to see whether it develops further