How Cloud Drives Innovation: Three Questions for Nathan Day, Chief Scientist of IBM’s SoftLayer

IBM-logo-promoQ. So, let’s get right to it. What’s so game changing about cloud computing?

A. Cloud computing has enabled ease of access to the world’s most powerful compute infrastructures. Cloud is getting the computing power you need, now, and paying only for what you use. Never before in history has it been so easy for enterprises of all sizes to access computational power like this without a huge upfront commitment of IT budget.

In fact, there are many successful organizations today, particularly small and medium business, which simply would not exist without the cloud.

Take any social-based online game you’ve played. Most social gaming companies started with 3-4 young people in someone’s living room who came up with a good idea. Without cloud, that’s where the story would have ended. Instead, these innovative entrepreneurs have built successful companies, even held multimillion dollar IPOs, all thanks to a compute model that aligned their IT costs with their income. With nothing up front to spend on IT because they had no customers (yet), their need (and cost) for computing power was zero – allowing them to invest in getting their idea off the ground.

Beyond gaming, just think of what it’s done for any small tech business. Thanks to cloud, it’s so easy for an app developer to get the compute power they need to launch their idea and build a business. Cloud computing frees up resources, both intellectual and financial, allowing companies to focus on what they do best – innovate.

In the case of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, that innovation means a benefit to society – saving the lives of both disaster victims and first responders. Government applications of cloud aren’t the only one’s serving society’s interest. Just look at IBM’s Jeopardy winning super computer, Watson. Way past game shows, Watson is now trying to become the world’s smartest doctor – studying mountains of data and medical intelligence to guide and diagnosis medical issues. This private sector application is a huge benefit to humanity and society – innovation for the benefit of society.

Q. We get it, the cloud is great. So are all clouds the same?

A. No. Every cloud has different features, costs and benefits. SoftLayer, an IBM Company, prides itself on bare metal as well as virtualized environments. Particular cloud environments may be better for specialized workloads. There are private clouds, for example, where companies want more control over their data. The fact is, there are different clouds for different applications and no two are exactly alike. If you truly understand and value your application workload, you owe it to yourself to test it with multiple cloud providers.

Q. Is cloud computing just for the Silicon Valley set? Are other types of organizations adopting it as well?

A. Absolutely. Take our federal government, for example. Cloud computing has become a buzz word inside the beltway as well, as the federal ‘cloud first’ mandate has been implemented and the trend towards government agency data center consolidation takes hold. The U.S. government has been quick to realize not only the cost saving benefit of cloud for taxpayers, but the power of cloud to make masses of government data more accessible and usable for its employees and constituents alike.

Beyond government, at IBM’s SoftLayer, we are seeing lots of interest from scientific and engineering organizations that are leveraging cloud to expedite research and innovation. Oil and gas companies in particular are conducting intensive seismic analysis to drill for oil. These are workloads that have traditionally been in on-premise environments but are now enjoying greater flexibility in the cloud. The same is true for financial institutions and other business that glean business intelligence from Big Data number crunching.

There truly isn’t an industry, government or organization out there that can’t benefit – no one is excluded from the technology revolution that is cloud computing.