IBM 'as a service' cloud pieces fall into place

IBM has acquired a bevy of cloud companies and built a Big Blue cloud stack. Here's a look at the moving parts and how they fit together as IBM moves from hardware to the cloud.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

IBM in recent days has bought its way to a near complete cloud computing stack. After a bit of integration work, IBM's cloud plans will become clear as it battles everyone from Oracle to HP to Amazon Web Services in a race to offset slowing hardware sales.

Add it up and you could say all of IBM's as a services (aaSes) are coming together.

Moving to IaaS: An overview

TBR analyst Stuart Williams said in a research note that Big Blue's shift to the cloud ushers in the "IBM as a service" era and changes the company's DNA. Williams said:

It’s time for yet another reassessment: IBM as a cloud company.

This shift to cloud — where hardware, software and services meld into one — represents the most significant change in IBM’s go-to-market strategy since it built a large blue-suited sales force to cater to businesses in the 1950s and ’60s. It’s a fundamental reinvention of the company, how IBM operates and how it delivers value to clients and society.

That take may be a bit gushy, but IBM clearly has more cloud parts in place than it had just a few quarters ago.

Here's a look at IBM's relatively new stack and where Watson is likely to f it into the mix.

Platform-as-a-service (PaaS): IBM last week launched BlueMix, which is designed to be an open cloud platform built on Pivotal's Cloud Foundry. IBM also made its software suite available on BlueMix. The move makes IBM a player with a platform that would allow developers to avoid vendor lock-in.



Robert LeBlanc, senior vice president of software and cloud solutions at IBM, said at the Morgan Stanley technology conference this week:

Think of BlueMix as taking the set of middleware capabilities that we have and exposing them as a set of services on the cloud. And therefore mobile services, integration services, data services, dev ops services, a full set of services that enable me now to build my next generation of application really focused in on the hybrid.

With BlueMix, IBM enters an increasingly crowded PaaS market that includes everyone from Salesforce to Oracle to Pivotal to Red Hat and a bevy of others. Also: Large organizations are buying into PaaS cloud services

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): IBM's $2 billion acquisition of SoftLayer not only made Big Blue more of a IaaS player, but gave the company an opportunity to talk cloud computing with every other word.

Since buying SoftLayer last year, IBM has been moving quickly to hook up its software to distributed data centers. IBM also plans on expanding SoftLayer's reach into 40 countries around the world by the end of 2014.

TechPro Research: Six business-class cloud storage services: Which one is right for you?

With SoftLayer, IBM aims to be more cost competitive with Amazon Web Services and grab a more diverse range of workloads. IBM launched an aggressive marketing campaign against AWS and could do so largely because of the SoftLayer purchase. The catch here is that the IaaS market is brutal and the race is on to razor thin margins at best. For companies, like Oracle the game is to use IaaS to upsell customers to cloud applications. IBM has a similar plan.

LeBlanc signaled that IBM is going to tout things like SoftLayer's flexibility and 1,600 application programming interfaces. Regarding flexibility, he said:

It's multiple sizes. Do you want a small, medium, or a large? We give much more flexibility. We'll support bare metal provisioning. A gamer probably wants bare metal. They don't want a virtualized server, they want a dedicated server that is bare metal so they can get all the performance. We support single and multi-tenant applications. We even support private cloud. So, effectively, you want us to manage the cloud for you in a private cloud, we can help you do that as well. From a pricing perspective, we're very competitive and you have to be. At the end of the day, clients do have choice.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS): IBM's first efforts in building its cloud computing stack revolved around SaaS. IBM boasts 100 applications that are available on demand. Big enterprise technology vendors always tout a raw number of SaaS apps, but more often than not the bulk muddles the message relative to a more focused player like Workday or NetSuite.

LeBlanc said:

What most people don't realize is that we've got over 100 SaaS applications. A lot of that, we've done both organically and we've done through acquisitions so we're pretty acquisitive company. We continue to add to that SaaS portfolio.

Database-as-a-service (DaaS): With the purchase of Cloudant, IBM adds another DaaS option to its lineup. Cloudant's DaaS allows mobile and Web developers to access mobile data with NoSQL technology. Cloudant will run on SoftLayer and other cloud platforms.

Details about the Cloudant roadmap were sparse given that IBM just closed the deal on Tuesday, but IBM will likely outline more plans for Cloudant, which also services as a big data cog for the company.

Watson as a service (WaaS): When IBM formed its Watson business unit, it noted that the cognitive computing technology would be available in a cloud format. Robert Picciano, senior vice president of information and analytics at IBM Software, said that Watson will likely run exclusively on Big Blue's cloud platforms.

He added that Watson will be used on-premise and for private clouds given the security needs of some enterprise data.

Rest assured IBM's stack will ultimately add up to analytics as a service because that's the company's real advantage. IBM has moved to create an ecosystem around Watson and plans to invest $1 billion to build the business. IBM has taken some hits about the company's ability to generate profits and revenue from Watson, but LeBlanc noted it's a long haul. He said:

We're not measuring it in financial terms because if you start to do that then you'll start to make trade offs, short term, versus long term. We view this as a fundamental shift in computing. We're treating it that way so we're investing also in that way. We're really investing for the longer term. We think it's got tremendous opportunity and will continue to push on it in that way. You do want short term returns, and work we're doing with clients short term, but we really have a long term view of this. We think it is transformational for not only the IBM company but also for the industry, and we're treating it that way.

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