Once upon a time, IBM Pulse was a systems management conference. But this year, IBM has marketed it as a “cloud” conference. The first day of keynotes was largely devoted to IBM’s cloud efforts, although the second day keynote went back to the systems management roots (if still with a cloudy spin). IBM has done a good job of presenting a coherent vision of how it intends to go forward into the world of cloud, which is explicitly a world of changing business demands and an altered relationship between business and IT.
Notably absent amidst all of this has been any mention of IBM’s traditional services business (strategic outsourcing et.al.), but the theme of “IBM as a service” has resonated strongly throughout. IBM possesses a deep portfolio of assets, and exposing those assets as services is key to its strategy. This is going to require radical changes in the way that IBM goes to market, with a much greater emphasis on marketing-driven online sign-up and self-service. (IBM, like other large tech vendors, is largely sales-driven today.)
Some serious brand-building for IBM’s SoftLayer acquisition is being done here, although IBM seems to be trying to redefine everything that SoftLayer does as cloud, although SoftLayer’s business is almost all dedicated hosting (bare metal, sold month-to-month), not cloud IaaS in the usual sense of the word. There’s abundant confusion as a result; the cloudwashing is to IBM’s benefit, though, at least for now.
IBM has an enormous installed base, across its broad portfolio, and for a large percentage of that base, it is a strategic vendor. IBM has to figure out how to get that customer base to buy into its cloud vision, and to make the bet that IBM is the right strategic partner for that cloud journey. IBM looks to be taking a highly neutral stance on the balance of cloud (services) versus internal IT; arguably, much like Microsoft, its strength lies in the ostensible ability to blend on-premises do-it-yourself IT with services in the cloud, extending the lifetime of existing technology stacks.
Much like Microsoft, IBM has an existing legacy of enterprise software — specifically, software built for single-tenant, on-premise, bespoke environments. Such software tends not to scale, and it tends not to be easily retrofitted into a services model. Again like Microsoft, IBM is on a journey towards “cloud first” architecture. IBM’s acquisition of Cloudant isn’t just the acquisition of a nice bit of technology — it’s also the acquisition of the know-how of how to build a service at scale, a crucial bit of engineering expertise that it needs to absorb and teach within IBM, as IBM’s engineers embark on turning its software into services.
Again like Microsoft, IBM has the advantage of an existing developer ecosystem and middleware that’s proven to be sticky for that ecosystem — and consequently IBM has the potential to turn itself into a compelling cloud platform (in the broadest of senses, integrated across the IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS boundaries). Since cloud is in many ways about the empowerment of the line-of-business and developers, this is decidedly helpful for IBM’s future ambitions in the cloud.
So another juggernaut is on the move. Things should get interesting, especially when it comes to platforms, which is arguably where the real war for the cloud will be fought.