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IBM/Microsoft cloud story updated with information on Dell's $1 billion cloud investment.



) --


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ramped up its enterprise cloud efforts at a company event for CIOs Thursday, unveiling new products and teaming up with firms like

Lockheed Martin

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to develop cloud standards.

Clouds are buzzing ... again. IBM's move comes a day after cloud rival


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announced a $12 million partnership with


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that will use Windows Azure to

develop in-car, digital information services

for Toyota's hybrid and plug-in vehicles.

IBM talked about its SmartCloud refresh, intended to improve customers' ability to manage applications on public clouds. "We have added enhancements for the enterprise," Ric Telford, IBM's vice president of cloud services, told


. Users, he said, can now continually adjust the levels of security, privacy and availability for apps running in the cloud.

IBM claims that this could cut the time spent deploying applications from days to minutes, which is increasingly important as companies push more and more apps into the cloud.

IBM is also juicing its efforts around private clouds, which companies access via VPNs. The tech giant showed off its Workload Developer software, which deploys a cloud app to multiple physical servers simultaneously.

"Before, you would have had to configure and install

the application on each server independently," said Telford. "That's a big, time-consuming step."

Given cloud computing's relative cloudy standing with a lot of tech, IBM is also focusing attention on the

lack of available standards

for the technology, and is forming a customer council to address concerns around cloud management, security, compliance and hybrid clouds. The group includes Lockheed Martin, Citigroup,


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and insurance giant

State Street

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Telford told


that IBM expects cloud to be become the "normal" method for delivering IT services by 2015. "We see this technology wave becoming mainstream now in enterprises," he said, adding that IBM has seen its users overcoming initial

security concerns

about the technology.

This is due, says IBM, to its efforts building network, application and data security into its cloud offerings, as well as ensuring tight security at its data centers running cloud services. Companies using IBM's cloud offerings include

American Airlines




, and vehicle history company


, said Telford. "When you see these names, it gives you a pretty good feeling that this is becoming mainstream," he added.

Whether or not that's true, the reality is that a number of corporate giants are finally deploying clouds in a big way. Microsoft recently announced enhancements for its Azure corporate cloud, which is being used by a host of companies to develop applications, including

T-Mobile USA



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also talked cloud details Thursday, announcing a $1 billion investment in new data centers and cloud services. The computer maker will also partner with Microsoft to help customers quickly deploy and manage private clouds.

Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, estimates that between 15% and 20% of businesses have either deployed a cloud or tested one. "Up to this point, I would say that about a third of companies are considering a cloud deployment," she said.

IBM, which sees cloudy investments as a way to boost its high-margin services business, has been one of the technology's most vociferous -- and early -- advocates. Big Blue launched its

Blue Cloud

strategy in 2007. IBM hopes that cloud deployment will also

drive demand

for the company's servers and software.

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano recently said that he expects his firm to generate

$7 billion in cloud-related revenue

by 2015.

At midday Thursday, IBM shares were dipping 18 cents to $163.86, Microsoft's were down 12 cents to $26.03 and Dell's were somewhat flat at $14.75. Tech stocks seemed to be following the broader market trend, which saw

shares dropping

on news of another earthquake in Japan.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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