How IBM plans to be the "undisputed leader" of the next cloud phase

The tech giant is busy building its relationships with developers ahead of the "innovation" phase of the cloud era.

After a decade of Amazon Web Services' dominance in the cloud computing, IBM thinks the market is at a turning point.

"It's IBM's goal to be the undisputed leader in enterprise cloud," Willie Tejada, IBM's chief developer evangelist, told ZDNet. Currently, AWS accounts for one third of the cloud infrastructure market -- more than Google, Microsoft and IBM combined. Even so, Tejada argued we've entered a "new phase" in cloud computing that's "no longer a race for size -- it's a race for value."

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"We've been in the cloud cost phase, where people looked at it as a way to reduce costs and get some agility and elasticity in terms of their IT strategies," he continued. "We believe this next phase is about innovation."

IBM is preparing for this phase by ramping up its engagement with developers, who hold growing clout when it comes to enterprise-decision making.

"Part of that is just the accessibility of tools and platforms they have to work with," Tejada said. "It wasn't that long ago when a developer had to interface with someone else in the enterprise to get environments stood up and systems acquired. In this day and age, you can get access to a supercomputer almost anywhere in the world and do it in a matter of minutes. There's a lot of empowerment happening in the developer community."

Also: Microsoft refreshes Azure Stack preview; adds new cloud services | IBM adds Nvidia Tesla P100 GPU to its cloud | VMware takes aim at enterprise hybrid cloud | AWS launches Amazon Connect, a cloud contact center as a service

To reach that community, one year ago this month, IBM formed its Digital Business Group, led by Tejada and IBM's first ever Chief Digital Officer, Bob Lord. Over the past year, their team has started training a new generation of "cognitive developers" with an expertise in AI and data science.

"We really believe the next sets of developers will be... folks who focus on AI but are not that far separated from the data science itself," he said.

IBM customers, however, may not have entirely figured that out yet. Businesses are going through "a learning process not unlike the what we saw in the big data explosion," Tejada said. It took time for businesses to understand where new roles, like the data scientist and data architect, fit into their organization.

This time around, IBM is aiming to get ahead of the challenges that come with adopting new technologies, by proactively training developers to meet emerging business needs.

Some of that training is delivered with the help of educational groups. IBM, for instance, sponsors Girls Who Code, to help the next generation of female developers learn how to use the Bluemix platform.

The company also recently announced it's partnering with the tech learning platform Galvanize to offer new cognitive, cloud and data science training initiatives hosted on IBM Bluemix. The initiative includes an online, four-week program that covers machine learning and AI, as well as their business applications. It also includes in-person developer training sessions at Cognitive Builder Fairs -- two-day events with workshops and hands-on labs -- and Cognitive Builder Spaces, which will offer in-depth training sessions, networking events, meetups, hackathons and competitions.

Developers, Tejada said, "want to have an immersive environment" when learning new technologies, "and most of all, they want an expert to talk to."

As IBM seeks to be the undisputed leader of the next cloud era, it's also expanding its reach beyond its traditional enterprise customer base. The company recently announced a new relationship with the Seattle startup Playfab, which offers backend platform for games like Roller Coaster Tycoon Touch. By pairing IBM's Watson Data Platform with Playfab's backend, game developers can better understand the user experience and create stronger engagement -- which, when the games are free, leads to greater revenue.

The makers of Roller Coaster Tycoon Touch used the Watson-powered system to analyze the user experience after soft launching a new game in November. They learned, counter-intuitively, that players needed slower-paced tutorials. After relaunching the game, the company realized 10x more revenues per play.

What's next for cloud computing?

While gaming startups don't represent the typical IBM customer, Playfab's success with the Watson Data Platfom illustrates how data science skill set "starts to become almost pervasive in all aspects" of business.

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