IBM plans to expand the number of its on-demand data centers from one to 11 by the end of the year, part of a push to offer users virtual resources that can, in effect, be pooled and made available where needed. Part of the IBM business model includes pay-as-you-go pricing.
According to the company, which announced the expansion on Friday, the cornerstone of this offering is its Universal Management Infrastructure (UMI) -- a set of software, architecture and best practices that allows multiple business units to draw on virtualized resources.
"We have clients today that say they want utility infrastructure in place 'that allows me to scale up and down more easily, that allows me to take the assets that I have in my data center and make them more efficient,'" said Mike Riegel, director of IBM Global Services.
IBM operates some 300 data centers around the world, and some of the new on-demand centers, which are planned in the US, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Singapore, will be coupled with its existing centers. It plans to open four or five more of the on-demand centers in early 2005, said Riegel.
The new data centers include capabilities that can be used in-house by corporate IT departments that don't want to outsource, said Riegel. UMI, for instance, can support a heterogeneous environment that allows users to closely monitor IT usage and charge their own business units on a pay-as-you-go pricing model.
While they differ on the details and approaches, other major IT vendors such as Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems are also expanding services and utility pricing models, as well as promising data center models that respond quickly to change.
At the AFCOM data center conference in Atlanta Monday, user reaction to the idea of moving to an outsourcing model or adopting pay-as-you-go pricing was mixed.
One conference attendee, Michael Crumpler, manager of server support at Atlanta-based media conglomerate Cox Enterprises Inc., is a heavy user of Sun servers. He said he has heard similar pitches from that company.
The major issue Crumpler has with utility models, regardless of whether the equipment is located at an outsourced location or in his data center, is one of control. "I'm not controlling my assets anymore," he said. That's not something Cox is ready to give up, except in the case of servers running noncritical services such as conference room scheduling.
But Ayman Nassar, data center manager at Prince George Community College, a 30,000-student school in the US, said he is interested in the model. The college already leases its hardware, which he sees as a first step to utility pricing, if it is similarly cost effective.
"We are moving toward that model of pay for what you only really need, as you need it," he said.
Services have been a growth area for vendors. Management Science Associates, a firm that does statistical analysis, has added data center outsourcing services, and after filling up a 10,000-sq.-ft. facility is now planning to build one four times larger, said Mar Simsic, information systems group director. The company dedicates servers and storage to its clients and does not use shared systems, he said.
Simsic said companies are particularly interested in outsourcing new projects or new hardware initiatives such as blade servers that they may not be equipped to handle internally.