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GE is building its own cloud; outsiders wonder why

The plane is about three-quarters finished.

General Electric is building a cloud to handle big industrial applications for itself, for big customers, and potentially even for big industrial rivals.

Many wonder why GE’s going to all that trouble. Their argument is that not even a colossus like GE GE can build the scale and infrastructure to rival that of huge public cloud providers— Amazon AMZN , Google GOOG , Microsoft MSFT , IBM IBM etc., and why a big industrial company would turn to GE for this sort of infrastructure when there are pros in the field already offering it.

This sentiment echoes statements made by Infor CEO Charles Phillips last year at an Amazon Web Services event: “Friends don’t let friends build data centers,” Phillips said, arguing that it makes no sense for a company whose business is financial software to build core infrastructure when it can so easily rent it.

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GE’s argument is that it knows more about the needs of the big machines running power plants, trains, planes, and automobiles than anyone else and so it makes sense to capitalize on that. And that those jobs have totally different characteristics than those of game and app makers.

Critics aren’t buying that. They say the beauty of public cloud is that it comprises lots of adaptable, flexible software and hardware that can handle any need. Specialized software partners fill in the gaps needed by, say an aircraft manufacturer that needs to analyze data flowing from its planes.

As for the universe of potential customers, you can see why GE’s Predix unit wants to open up to them. There’ s no reason United Technologies wouldn’t be welcome to the GE Predix Cloud, Harel Kodesh, vice president and general manager of GE Software’s Predix group told Fortune.

But an outsider has to wonder why Rockwell Automation ROK or United Technologies UTX would do so, especially given that Microsoft is trying to make its Azure public cloud and Azure Packs a one-two public-private cloud push into these sorts of accounts. And you know AWS and IBM, even Google will be courting these companies big time as well.

Wherever you stand on this debate, you have to agree this is going to be an interesting story to track.

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