Linux on the cloud: IBM, Novell & Red Hat

Today, Mar. 16, has been filled with Linux and cloud news — which is great, I guess, if you're ready to trust your data to the cloud.

In case you don't follow Linux as closely as I do, here's the short version: Red Hat and Novell have joined up with IBM to provide a new open cloud environment that goes by the unwieldy name Smart Business Development and Test on the IBM Cloud.

Besides running Linux, this new cloud service comes ready for work with more software partners than you can shake a stick at. The bottom line is that I don't care what capability you want from your server farm; chances are you'll find it ready to go on IBM's new Linux-powered cloud from either IBM, who is offering its full Lotus and WebSphere lines, or from one of its ISV (independent software vendor) partners. These services are scheduled to be made available in the second quarter of 2010 in the United States and Canada, with a global roll-out by year's end.

IBM claims, and I see no reason to doubt them, that its cloud customers can cut IT labor costs by 50% and reduce software defects by 30% by moving development to the cloud. In particular, by moving internal development to the cloud, companies can save money and time otherwise spent on internal development and test environments. Specifically, IBM maintains that internal development and testing setups can eat up as much as 50% of a company's IT infrastructure while remaining idle 90% of the time.

As proof of the Linux-powered cloud's advantages, IBM points to eBay's online payments division, PayPal, where developers are creating and testing payments applications for smartphones in IBM's cloud. In the above statement, Osama Bedier, PayPal's VP of product development, said, "We want to provide a very simple way to make payments available on all platforms, including mobile applications," and IBM's cloud delivers the goods.

At the same time, Red Hat also announced that the Symbian Foundation, the non-profit devoted to fostering the recently open sourced Symbian operating system community, has adopted Red Hat Enterprise Linux for its private, cloud-based developer Website and server. I find that doubly ironic, since Symbian, an embedded operating system most commonly used in mobile phones, resisted going open source for ages; even now their main development site is apparently not going to be open to the public. Do you get the impression that I do that Symbian is still trying to gets it mind around the idea of open source?

This is all good news for Linux vendors. It's just more proof that Linux is a strong mainstream server operating system.

At the end of the day, I'm still left thinking that the cloud is just the latest version of that ancient idea that corporate computing is best done at a distance in some remote data center outside the control of a company. Whether you call it mainframe time-sharing, network computing, or client-server computing, it's always the same idea.

It's a powerful idea, but today, in my home office alone, I have terabytes of storage, gigabit Ethernet, and one PC with an Intel 3.4GHz Nehalem 920 CPU, which does about 57 GFLOPs (Giga-FLoating point Operations Per Second). That makes my rather ordinary new desktop PC about as fast as the fastest early 90s supercomputers.

If I have that kind of computing power in my house, why should a business with far more resources trust its data and programs to a cloud? This is an ancient argument. I can recall when people were debating whether PCs were just toys and that all 'real' business computing should be kept on the mainframes and mid-range computers. Since all of us have PCs on our desks today, we know how that argument worked out.

I'm not saying that mainframes, distributed computing, and clouds, or whatever they'll call it next year, don't have a place in corporate computing. I am saying though that with inexpensive x86-based servers and PCs growing ever more powerful I still don't see a compelling reason for most businesses to move their data-processing power from in-house server rooms and data centers to anyone's cloud.

What do you think?

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