IBM is set for a new campaign to sell “utility computing” or, so-called, computing on demand. This much-touted phrase stands for the concept whereby data centres (including storage, networking and server capacity) can be allocated to different tasks to increase efficiency.

A new product, Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator, shifts tasks between servers, while the company has announced a new UK customer for on-demand computing, drinks company Diageo.

Orchestrator is part of Project Symphony, an IBM effort starting this autumn to sell utility computing to different kinds of customer. The big departure is for IBM to sell stuff like Orchestrator as point products, alongside the consultancy-led sales which are more traditional in the data centre. This means that DIY-minded IT managers can make a start on an on-demand makeover for as little as $20,000 – the entry level for an Orchestrator licence.

The move to product-led sales is in response to customer demand, according to Sandy Carter, vice president of Tivoli marketing at IBM, however, it does not mark a total shift to the approach espoused by companies like Sun’s SunONEand Microsoft’s consultancy-free approach to the data centre. “We will address a spectrum, from a do-it-yourself offering, through bundles, to hardware software and deployment services,” she said, “and also package it up with intellectual property.”

In this case “intellectual property” means the traditional data centre approach, where consultants use methodologies such as the UK-government initiated ITIL, to build systems for the customer. “The whole point is users can buy the product and do it themselves, or buy the pieces integrated together, or buy deployment services, or intellectual capital,” said Carter. Starting small, on projects with recognised benefits, is the best way to attract risk-averse customers during a down-turn, it seems.

“Some customers want to enter that spectrum in several different places,” she said. “We are working with one customer that is buying the product priced between $20,000 and $50,000. At the same time, another division of that company is buying an intellectual property-based solution.” She did not say how much the “intellectual property” option, was costing, but referred to competitors’ offerings where users “have to spend $2 m to get into the game”.

Tivoli Intelligent Orchstrator is the first IBM version of ThinkControl, a provisioning product IBM acquired in May, when it bought Think Dynamics. Written in J2EE, ThinkControl allocates computing power across a group of servers, increasing the ability to allocate resources, and reducing the need to have spare idle servers.

The software supports other standards like XML, SNMP, SOAP and Open Grid Services Architecture, so re-jigging it to support different middleware and hardware platforms has been no trouble, said Carter. The product originally supported BEA middleware and Oracle databases; IBM added support for its DB2 database and WebSphere middleware. It runs on Linux or Windows, and manages Linux, Windows AIX or Sun Solaris servers – with support for both HP-UX and IBM zSeries mainframes coming shortly.

Diageo’s deal does not explicitly include Orchestrator, but it is at the traditional “interllectual property” end of Carter’s spectrum of data centre deals. The drinks company has taken a seven year contract, worth an estimated £400 million, with IBM’s Global Services consultancy arm, to overhaul the company’s whole IT structure, reports VNUnet.

Meanwhile, Orchestrator does have a public showing: it is currently being put through its paces in an IBM showpiece based round the US Open tennis tournament. Orchestrator is being used to recycle spare cycles from the website to speed up protein structure calculations in IBM’s research labs. The website, which expects some 23 million visitors, is being run on IBM pSeries Risc Linux systems, but demand will be very varied. An xSeries Intel server running Windows is using Orchestrator to manage spare processing capacity. The research centre has a bank of pSeries Unix boxes running complex protein folding applications which require large amounts of processing. Banks could do a similar thing, balancing their banking applications with their online services, said Carter: “This type of technology will change the IT industry.”

IBM watchers who are already overloaded with buzz phrases needn’t add Symphony to their scorecards just yet – someone else already has the trademark, so it is only an internal IBM code-name. The actual marketing of the scheme is yet to be decided, but its centre of gravity will be Orchestrator.