IBM's Rapidly Evolving Cloud Computing Strategy

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If you have not noticed, just about everything that IBM is doing lately in software revolves around cloud computing.

Today, IBM announced that it has signed a pact with Ariba, under which that company's software for tracking spending will become available in the cloud via IBM's Lotus subsidiary. Earlier this week, IBM announced that it is acquiring Sterling Software, a provider of e-commerce software. Earlier this month, IBM acquired Cast Iron Software to gain access to middleware for integrating cloud computing services. And prior to that, IBM's Cognos, Websphere, DB2 and Rational software offerings have all been made available via the cloud.

According to Beverly Dewitt, program director for IBM's LotusLive partner program, there's nothing random about the IBM cloud computing strategy. Under the auspices of the LotusLive cloud computing platform, IBM is inviting application vendors that address specific business processes, such as spend management in the case of Ariba, to become full-fledged LotusLive partners alongside vendors such as Skype and Salesforce.com. Rather than just creating a platform such as Microsoft Azure or Google App Engine, IBM is trying to create an ecosystem where each partner addresses a discrete business process, said Dewitt.

Of course, IBM has its own platform and infrastructure as a service offerings based on its Rational Software, DB2, Cognos and Websphere platforms, but the end goal, says Dewitt, is to create a business process ecosystem in the cloud, so don't be surprised as IBM moves to sign up additional complementary partners for LotusLive. This brings us to the end game of cloud computing. Dewitt says that no one expects that all business processes and related software will run in the cloud. But it's also becoming clear that not only software and hardware is moving into the cloud; entire business processes are moving, as well.

That has profound implications not only for the IT department, but the people that use these services. It will require the forging of new relationships between users of these services and the IT organizations charged with managing and integrating them.

To that end, IBM, in addition to acquiring Cast Iron Software, has deployed lightweight RESTful APIs across its cloud offerings and will shortly add support for OpenSocial gadgets. The goal is to create a flexible set of offerings that will allow customers to integrate on-premise applications, custom applications running in the cloud and business process services delivered via the cloud.

Clearly, IBM is pretty far ahead of most organizations in their thinking about cloud computing. But at the same time, business processes are moving into the cloud much faster than most people realize, so it's only a matter of time before they all need to be unified under a common management framework that IBM clearly hopes to provide.