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Counting on clouds to save green?

You have to go back to the veterans of timesharing with 3000s to find reality about cloud computing potential. Hewlett-Packard is pitching this concept -- sometimes called Software as a Service (SaaS). But companies of an average size may not see much savings, according to the Support Group inc's Sue Kiezel.

We talked with tSGi after we asked 3000 partners how much cloud they expected to cover the community with in the year to come. A few companies reported they'd spread a few clouds, tSGi among them. You'll want to have an extensive IT operation to count on the bottom-line greenback savings. And if you're not a Fortune 1000 company? The services will get updated on the big boys' schedule.

"They roll out the upgrades and inform you that you will be going to the new release," Kiezel said. "They'll probably schedule the upgrade based on what a customer the size of GE wants." You may be able to push back if you're of a certain size, but that size is big.

Not upgrading is a common choice, especially for the ERP customer like the ones that tSGi serves. Too much customization of an app makes a careful IT manager look hard at the work it will take to catch up to an upgraded version.

This disconnect between traditional app management and the easy promises of the cloud will keep skies pretty clear for HP 3000 sites -- even those that are migrating and can get a better match between their local hosts and the ones up in the cloud. ERP has been more fraught with customization than most other business segments.

The flip side of the cloud question is how much those SaaS clouds will save the big customers that are running the release schedule. "You won't get the cost savings at that level if you're the size of a GE," Kiezel said. "If you go into the cloud what you're usually saving are capital expenditures, which are very small."

HP counts some pretty large wins in cloud computing, organizations like the US Department of Defense. The adopters are few in number at this point. Clouds operate under subscription-based payments, and "the subscription fees are going to be way up there for a General Electric," Kiezel said. That outlay might even offset the savings of reducing local headcount in IT, which is another cloud promise.

tSGi operates another aspect of a cloud offering, managing HP 3000s installed at the firm's datacenter and operated on behalf of remote clients who connect over networks. This removes the 3000 from daily maintenance, and in the case of tSGi even gives the customer extra support for the ERP applications on the hosted systems. It can even give a company more time to complete a migration. That's important for some, now that HP's 2010 support deadline is only about 15 months away.

In a relocation of host model, a customer can benefit from access to the IT talent they can't afford to get, Kiezel said. "I can afford it as a provider because I have 100 customers," she explained. "My little 10-seat customer can't afford that talent because he's a small business."

Consolidating many small IT operations through a cloud-like service gives the planet a boost, to be sure. A massive footprint of a large IT shop is easy to target. But the combined carbon footprints of computer rooms dwarf the footprints of autos, Kiezel said.

"You might say that you have a small footprint, and what can you really save. But if you put 100 companies together, and you have a bottom line that depends on how efficient you can run your [cloud] services for them, you have a chance of minimizing the footprint for a lot of people. That's computing green."