IBM ( IBM) took a swipe at Google ( GOOG) and Cisco ( CSCO) Monday, launching a set of services for sharing information over the Web, scheduling meetings, and developing online social networks. This so-called cloud technology, dubbed Bluehouse, uses IBM's Tivoli, Lotus, and Rational software to send files across corporate firewalls and set up online meetings. The beta version of Bluehouse, which is available now, also lets users build networking communities through a Web browser. IBM is keen to open up new revenue streams by merging its existing products into services that tap into the growing popularity of what is called the Web 2.0 era. Earlier this year, for example, Merrill Lynch estimated that cloud computing represents a $95 billion market in business and productivity applications. "IBM's broad technology expertise in processor and systems design, software and services positions it well for a shift toward Cloud infrastructures," wrote Merrill research analyst Kash Rangan. "IBM also brings advanced software management features through Tivoli and its Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) initiatives." IBM shares have taken a pounding recently amid a slowdown in tech spending and concern over the wider economy. The stock was recently trading down nearly 5% to $98.57. It's now down about 25% in less than three months. IBM is touting Bluehouse as a way for firms to collaborate with partners, suppliers, and customers at a time when users are looking for more cost-effective ways to share information. The company, which is offering online storage as part of the strategy, is also firing a shot across the bows of Cisco and Google.
Last year, Cisco spent $3.2 billion to acquire Web collaboration specialist WebEx, and Google has thrown its weight behind Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) with its Google Apps offering. Software giant Microsoft ( MSFT) is also getting in on the cloud services act, and will reportedly launch a cloud-based version of Windows at its Professional Developers' Conference later this month. With the growing popularity of technologies such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and an increasingly tight spending climate, more users are turning to the Web as a way to build business networks and share information, says Willy Chiu, IBM's vice president of high performance on demand solutions. "It lets you leverage your infrastructure more effectively," he explains. "Data centers need to be more efficient and responsive to business needs." Chiu confirmed that a paid-for version of Bluehouse will be generally available early next year. Despite plenty of recent hype about cloud computing, not all vendors are jumping onto the bandwagon. Last month, for example, Oracle ( ORCL)CEO Larry Ellison said that his firm
will not invest in cloud computing centers, which he characterized as "the latest fashion trend".