You hear a lot of opinions these days about cloud computing -- what it is, what it can do, how it will improve enterprise productivity.
A lot of this conjecture has to do with outcomes. The cloud is all about workload management or application flexibility or service level agreements.
While all that is true, on a more fundamental level, the cloud is all about networking. After all, there is no cloud unless and until you have a high-speed network infrastructure in place.
That's why we're seeing a number of moves from IBM this week all aimed at beefing up its networking prowess. The company has turned to the three top networking specialists -- Cisco, Juniper and Brocade -- to augment the company's server and storage platforms. The goal is to be able to walk into leading data centers with a full, turnkey cloud platform that does away with a lot of the integration issues that normally accompany such complex architectures.
The deals with Juniper and Brocade are standard bundling and branding agreements. IBM will rebrand products from both companies, although users will still have access to both companies' related technologies, such as Juniper's JUNOS operating system. Both companies already had OEM agreements with IBM, but the new deal covers the latest products on the market, such as the EX and MX series switches from Juniper and the B32 converged switch and 10Gb converged network adapter from Brocade.
Both companies, of course, compete with Cisco, which may be why that company decided to forego a full branding agreement for an expansion of the two companies' existing reseller arrangement. Under the deal, IBM will provide Cisco's latest products, such as the Nexus 5000 switch, as part of IBM turnkey solutions. Interestingly, though, the deal does not seem to cover the Nexus 7000, which Cisco has billed as a major component of the Unified Computing System (UCS) that, if you'll recall, includes a blade server.
Clearly, though, IBM has decided that partnerships are the way to go in the cloud computing space. Unlike HP, which offers servers, storage and networking in-house, IBM is thinking that most data centers will go for a mix-and-match approach to preserve their flexibility.
There are pros and cons to both approaches. On the one hand, you give up direct control of product development and integration, but on the other you are largely shielded from competitive pressures like the apparent price war that has broken out between HP and Cisco. If one system is suddenly undercut, IBM has several alternatives to offer.
For the user, these approaches won't hide the fact that cloud architectures are extremely complex, and it could be a while before the technology is hitting on all cylinders. But that doesn't mean it's not a worthy goal.