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Most everybody in IT is talking about cloud computing, and a number of companies — including major players like Microsoft, Google and — are rolling out cloud offerings, but it’s IBM that is shooting to be top gun, focusing on cloud computing workloads and partner ecosystems.

Launching next quarter will be Big Blue’s Smart Business Development & Test on the IBM Cloud, which has been in beta for months and is being announced now because many of its customers are ready for it, says Drew Clark, Director of Strategy, IBM Venture Capital Group.

"It seemed like the right time to make this commercially available," says Clark. "Its ready and we’ve got clients that want it." He tells Channel Insider there must be at least a dozen partners that have offerings up and running and being announced today.

Evan Bauer, CTO, The Collaborative Software Initiative, says his company has been using the software since late December, early January. "We’re users, not just appreciators."

CSI used IBM’s cloud environment to develop, test, and deliver a collaboration portal product — with its partner Spencer Trask Collaborative Innovations (STCI) — to the Department of Education, connecting teachers, administrators, education experts, and charitable foundations to request, propose, and refine ideas to improve public education in the United States. The time and resource savings are incredible, says Bauer.

Typically the software gets implemented as a service and it takes weeks to get the development environment up and running. "With the IBM cloud, that literally happens in minutes." When you have very dynamic applications, or communities where needs can change very rapidly, or you want to experiment with something, you can put it in place in a matter of hours, he says. "It is remarkably powerful and flexible."

The savings can be huge, agrees Clark. He says the average enterprise devotes up to 50 percent of its entire technology infrastructure to development and test, but typically up to 90 percent of it remains idle. Clark says customers can reduce IT labor costs by 50 percent, improve quality and reduce time to market by taking advantage of IBM’s cloud development and testing.

As part of IBM’s venture capital group, Clark doesn’t look for companies to invest in, but to ensure companies are in sync with IBM’s plans and directions before they become products. "Think of us as talent scouts." He’s been scouting out cloud partners for the last year, nurturing them and giving them advance access to alpha and beta products. "We’re out there trying to seed the way."

IBM started making a number of cloud-based announcements last Fall and today’s announcements are just the tip of the iceberg, he says. "This year you will be hearing much more about partners."

Partners like CSI and PayPal have their own ecosystems of partners. By tapping into them and getting them up on the cloud, IBM is creating a multiplicative effect in the value those ecosystems are going to receive, says Clark. Of the three cloud delivery models — IBM, private and third-party — he sees the third as the one that will get the most channel interest, with strong IBM support.

"I think you’re going to see a series of services offerings and workshop offerings around this third option. We’re going to do that on a scale you won’t see anywhere else." Clark says IBM offers the size, geographic reach and comfort of a major technology producer that other cloud companies don’t.

Looking ahead, he says other cloud workloads that IBM will offer will include customer-facing or edge-of-the-network offerings like CRM, email in the cloud and collaborative applications. "There is a lot of demand from customers along these lines." At the other end of the spectrum — transaction-based workloads — there are applications that are very sensitive to latency or security.

"There is a continuum of workloads that are out there that will some day be on clouds."

IBM launched a private cloud solution for development and test last June 2009, and is now offering development and test services in three delivery models: IBM WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance for Development & Test is a pre-integrated set of hardware, storage, virtualization and networking, with a built-in service management system to allow clients to rapidly deploy an internal/private cloud environment; IBM Smart Business Development & Test Cloud is a private cloud service behind the client’s firewall, built and managed by IBM, including enhanced capabilities for collaborative cloud development using Rational Software Delivery Services for Cloud Computing; and IBM Smart Business Development & Test on the IBM Cloud is an application development and test featuring Rational Software Delivery Services for Cloud Computing over IBM’s cloud.

In addition, IBM is introducing Rational Software Delivery Services for Cloud Computing v1.0, which includes a collection of Rational’s products and capabilities. The online cloud computing resource center on IBM DeveloperWorks is billed as the industry’s largest technical resource with 8 million registered developers, IT professionals, and students worldwide. Launched last month to Tivoli partners at Pulse2010, Big Blue will continue its cloud computing workshops at its 40 global Innovation Centers to support ISV business partners seeking cloud skills.