In previous installments of this ongoing conversation, we have talked about the need for information technology itself to become smarter. Despite enormous advances in computing power, the world's IT infrastructure—already under severe stress from today's computing tasks—could easily become overwhelmed by the onrushing complexity and unprecedented data generated by nearly a trillion instrumented and interconnected devices, objects, processes and people.
Fortunately, help is at hand. It comes in the form of a new model called "cloud computing," in which processing, storage, networking and applications are accessed as services over networks—public, via the Internet; or private, via intranets. It makes possible a new level of system intelligence—also known as "services management"—with the potential to secure, authenticate, customize and just plain keep up with the coming wave of data complexity and volume.
Importantly, just as the clouds above us are differentiated—cirrus, stratus, cumulus—the smart clouds of a smarter planet will develop around particular tasks. They will be optimized for workloads as diverse as software development and virtual desktops, as smarter traffic management and smarter retail.
Some will enable entire business and civic ecosystems to function more smoothly. For instance, consider the city of Wuxi in southeastern China, which developed a "cloud services factory" to provide computing resources to local companies. Software developers can access new resources in minutes, and new businesses can hit the ground running. Wuxi now has the potential to provide services to hundreds of small and medium-sized companies, which represent the future of a city that sees itself as an engine for growth.
Some clouds will extend the capabilities of a smarter planet to communities with limited resources. Thanks to a private education cloud, the 12-year-old computers of the Pike County Schools System in eastern Kentucky now behave more like 2009 models.
That has enabled the county to cut 62% of its schools' end-user support costs, while providing equal access to education content across 27 schools. Most importantly, Pike's 10,000 students can now access new courseware instantly—something that used to take more than a year.
And some clouds will help provide more secure and stable public services when it matters most. Following Hurricane Ike in 2008, Houston was plagued by downed trees and power lines—but the nonprofit human services agency Neighborhood Centers Inc., with its system data backed up in a cloud, didn't suffer a single business disruption at any of its 20 facilities. Following the storm, the agency was back in business, providing support to families in need.
Around the world, IBM is working with banks, telecommunications providers, retail firms, governments and universities to use clouds to optimize for specific economic and societal goals, and to infuse their technology systems with IBM's unique depth of expertise. All because smarter clouds are now gathering on the horizon.
Let's build a smarter planet.