IBM is gussying up its SmartCloud public cloud to make it more useful for enterprise-class customers, in the hope it can lure them away from Amazon Web Services, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and others. Big Blue is also promising to put its System z mainframes on its cloud.
With the SmartCloud Enterprise 2.1 release, based on the company's System x x86-based servers, Big Blue is boosting the service level agreement on this basic level of its public cloud from the 99.5 per cent availability guarantee that the company offered at launch time in April 2011 to a 99.9 percent guarantee.
That may not seem like a lot, but it is the difference between just under 48 hours of total downtime per year to just under 9 hours, and this can be a big difference for any company depending on infrastructure to run its business. The much-desired five nines of availability means a system is only offline for a little more than five minutes a year, and it is very unlikely that public clouds will offer that guarantee at an affordable price any time soon – be it from IBM or anyone else.
In addition to higher availability, the SmartCloud Enterprise 2.1 release of the IBM cloud adds support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.8 and 6.2, two key operating systems that ISVs peddling application software and customers wanting to deploy their own stacks on the cloud, have been asking Big Blue to support. IBM initially supported Microsoft's Windows 2003 and 2008, Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5.4 and 5.5, and SUSE Linux's Enterprise Server 11 on the virtual server slices atop its x86 iron, in either 32-bit or 64-bit images.
IBM says that it has also upgraded the underlying KVM hypervisor it uses on SmartCloud Enterprise for better scalability and performance (but does not say what release level of KVM it is using) as well as upgrading the performance of the persistent block storage service that is separate from the storage allocated to each virtual machine running on the x86 box.
IBM configures each virtual CPU on these machines with 1.25GHz of processing oomph and one, two, or four virtual CPUs, plus 2GB or 4B of memory and from 60GB to 350GB of local disk storage. (You can see the SmartCloud Enterprise configurations here.)
On 64-bit machines, you start out at two virtual cores and can push it up to sixteen virtual cores, with memory ranging from 4GB to 16GB and storage ranging from 60GB to 2TB. IBM offers forum support with the base offering, with Premium Support making available IBM techies by telephone on a 24x7 basis above that. If you want that SLA, you have to buy Advanced Premium Support, which has severity-level support based on the business impact ranging from an hour for severe issues to a day for issues that have no business impact.
That SLA gives you a refund if the IBM does not meet the uptime commitments. The question is whether IBM is providing 99.9 per cent uptime on each hourly slice, and considering that it is pricing based on the hour, this makes sense. You have to reckon for yourself if getting a few bucks back when you biz is down is really compensation.
IBM is also offering add-on support services for operating systems, just like it does on real physical servers running Windows and Linu. Onboarding services for the SmartCloud Enterprise, to help you spit your apps onto the Big Blue Cloud, are a further option. You can see the pricing scheme, which is as complex as that from Amazon for its AWS services, here (PDF).
IBM is offering freebie slices on the SmartCloud Enterprise between now and June 11 if you want to kick the tires.