IBM's announcement of its plans to acquire Cast Iron Systemsthrows a spotlight on what may be described best as a paradoxical approach to cloud computing.
Cast Iron Systems primarily relies on a series of appliances to integrate local enterprise resources or two cloud computing entities together. In effect, these appliances are basically a series of gateways. More recently, Cast Iron Systems started offering integration as an actual service in the cloud, where there are already a large number of competitors offering similar services that were designed specficially to run in the cloud, rather than on an appliance.
The issue that this brings up is how scalable an appliance approach is over the long haul. In fact, an appliance is pretty much a contradiction of terms when it comes to cloud computing. After all, if the whole point of cloud computing is to move more IT processes into the cloud, than why deploy an appliance to achieve that when the integration points should be in the cloud?
There are plenty of offerings capable of providing integration via the cloud versus an appliance. If your short-term focus is primarily on-premise with some occasional need for linkage to the cloud, then an appliance might be a viable point-product solution. But as private and public cloud computing systems scale to become the dominant style of computing in the enterprise, an appliance approach is going to prove limiting at best.
Of course, IBM will offer integration via the cloud using the Cast Iron Systems code base that is available as a service in the cloud. That offering allows them to fill a short-term gap in its cloud computing portfolio that IBM apparently overlooked. But they probably could have built that on their own just as easily, and may still wind up doing so depending on how well Cast Iron Systems software can actually scale at a time when brokering technology is already moving to the forefront of cloud computing application integration.
In the absence of organic growth, IBM probably sees Cast Iron Systems as yet another acquisition that will make the company's software revenue stream appear to be growing at a steady clip. Longer term, Cast Iron Systems is likely to become the latest of a long series of IBM middleware acquisitions that eventually gets lost in the company's bewildering Websphere portfolio.
There's no doubt that IBM intends to become a major player in the cloud, and many people apparently view the acqusition of Cast Iron Systems as a significant step in the right direction. But IBM's first inclination, before eventually finding the right path, is to always take an approach to IT that drives the most services revenue possible for IBM Global Services. And the acquisition of Cast Iron Systems, unfortunately, appears to be more of the same.