IBM hosts applications in cloud for Chinese vendors

The cloud-computing product, aimed at small businesses, could be taken outside China

A new IBM product that allows data centers to host online applications for software vendors has been deployed in a Chinese technology park and could later appear overseas.

IBM expects the product, which offers Web-based product development tools, to speed the time to market for applications from smaller businesses. It launched the product first in China to further develop it in a region packed with small businesses, a test that could be followed with similar offerings for enterprise buyers, Thomas Li, director of the IBM China Research Lab, said in an interview.

"In China we can test out a new business model," Li said.

Companies that offer a word-processing suite, information databases and business management systems as online services have all launched their products on a central server cluster run by a software park in Wuxi, a technology city near Shanghai. Others are developing their products to offer on the platform. Companies pay the park a fee for their applications to be hosted on the shared servers.

IBM designed the hosting platform, which also offers Web-based product development and testing tools to subscriber companies. One such tool aims to reduce time spent on redundant bug testing by highlighting code changes between versions of a program. Software developers can then more easily separate the parts of a program that have been updated and need retesting from the parts already found to run smoothly, said Chen Ying, associate director of IBM's China lab.

IBM's platform for the China park, called Pangoosky, has already quickened product development at one company. The platform helped Wuxi Changrun Science and Technology launch a business-to-business e-commerce site for stainless-steel products in just a few months rather than two or three years, said Liu Lifei, general manager of the company.

The Web site is hosted on the platform's servers, and the company drew on the package of development applications to avoid having to create its own bottom-level technology, another employee said.

When businesses tap the IBM development tools, they all connect to a single instance of each application on a server. That is more efficient than the old model of running a separate instance for each user, said IBM's Li.

IBM says it has used a new technique to reduce the cost of operation for the multiple-user model. The technique involves changes to the database layer beneath an application, which maps commands between user and server, to boost efficiency while keeping each customer's data private from other users, said IBM's Chen.

The high volume of small businesses in China could eventually mean hundreds of thousands of users connecting to one instance of an application there, Li said.

IBM wants to expand the use of its product in the Wuxi software park and launch it in 100 more Chinese cities, said Li. It could then take the product to other countries. IBM researchers have held a conference in New York state to discuss a similar platform for software vendors to provide Web-based services to municipal governments, Li said.

IBM and the China park will eventually start splitting revenue gained from user fees, which will take effect for some applications next year, he said.

China is a good testing ground for products like the IBM platform because companies there often have little IT infrastructure background and are willing to try new technologies, said Li.

The IT industry is also favored by China's government as a source of prestige and economic growth. Companies registered in the Wuxi software park receive tax benefits, discounted rent and sometimes cash support. Wuxi faces competition with dozens of other cities offering similar incentives to attract IT businesses.

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Owen Fletcher

IDG News Service
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