Right off the bat, let me stress that while I do work for IBM, my thoughts and opinions in the blog post and my blog in general are mine and mine alone.
When I think about the IBM Cloud, and that is “big C” Cloud, the entire IBM Cloud portfolio; I think of Shemp or maybe Curly Joe. Zeppo Marx and Cooper Manning also come to mind. So does Daniel Baldwin. If you haven’t figured it out yet, the IBM Cloud is the least known of the cloud siblings. There is no doubt that Shemp and Curly Joe, Zeppo and Daniel all bring unique talents to their respective families. But there is no arguing that Moe, Larry, Curly, Harpo, Groucho, Chico, Payton, Eli, Alec, William, and Stephen (well maybe not William and Stephen) are more well known. While Amazon, Microsoft, and Google get the lion’s share of the “off the top of your head” references, the IBM Cloud holds its own when it comes to capabilities. But why do you not hear about it except for some very specific reference stories and some very well-done commercials. I wanted to examine some of the realities of the IBM Cloud in this blog post.
First of all, I am not going to put features and capabilities side by side for a grand comparison chart. But what I will say is that there are some areas of the IBM Cloud that shine, and IBM has many success stories to prove it. It is no secret that AWS has a huge lead, a large market share and a large mindshare. Focusing on “catching” them is probably not a smart strategy. Also, much of the standard public cloud (see VSIs) is moving to commodity territory and is a race to the bottom from a price point perspective. If you want to compare pennies per gigabyte hour or number of seconds to spin up a virtual machine, then go ahead, more power to you. But at some point, I would argue that unless you are on a pretty large scale this effort is pointless.
But what I will talk about is focus. First let’s look at how cloud is defined and get it out on the table to help the discussion. This is not as easy an answer as one would think. Is a cloud determined by its deployment model? Are private, hybrid, and public deployment models all considered cloud? Is a cloud determined by its physical deployment location? Can a cloud can be on-premises and off-premises? Does a cloud have to be IaaS or PaaS or SaaS alone or some combination of all three? Does a cloud have to be based on some type of virtualization or can it be based on bare metal machines as well?
You would think the technology analyst firms could help us out here. After all, they are in the business of analyzing and ranking cloud vendors. It doesn’t take long to see their differing opinions. The famous IaaS magic quadrant from Gartner this year puts IBM in the niche category. But Forrester Wave’s PaaS rating puts IBM a strong second. Analysts don’t see eye-to-eye in what an important perspective is when looking at cloud vendors.
IBM’s focus on cloud is unique due to its breadth of customers and breadth of its overall solution portfolio much of which fall outside of traditional “cloud.” Therefore, IBM focuses on cloud with a fisheye lens (ultra-wide). IBM sees cloud as all of the ways to look at cloud. I think I can argue that no other cloud vendor offers as much diversity in deployment model, location, and service model and combinations of them all as IBM. You might think that a private cloud has to run on-premises but that is not true. IBM offers private and dedicated versions of its public services. IBM also strives to provide a “one architecture” perspective. This provides a similar if not identical look, feel, and experience regardless of what cloud deployment model you choose. This is much easier said than done but it is a key strategy for IBM.
Another difference with the IBM Cloud is its focus on open source. Open source is a priority to IBM and is evident by its participation in numerous open source initiatives going way back to Linux and Eclipse. I believe the difference for IBM is that it makes a concerted effort to not vendor-lock a customer. That doesn’t sound right based on IBM’s proprietary solution success stories. But when it comes to the cloud, IBM wants its customers to know that an investment in targeting IBM’s cloud should not prevent them from moving that solution off of the IBM Cloud if they so choose. Let’s look at a few examples. IBM’s Bluemix was launched in June of 2014 as managed platform-as-a-service offering. But IBM did not invent their own, but instead offered a managed Cloud Foundry implementation. IBM could have invented their own, but IBM instead chose to compete with other ways of deploying Cloud Foundry and bet that it could build a business offering a public managed version. A slightly different approach was taken with serverless computing. IBM open-sourced its OpenWhisk serverless platform so that customers could deploy their own on-premises version if they were not happy with the IBM experience. The same approach was taken with blockchain and the HyperLedger project.
Another way to look at the IBM strategy is via the continuum of a customer’s journey to cloud. IBM approaches the cloud discussion with not just a target to shoot for but a path to get there. Not everyone is ready to move to a cloud-native container-based application architecture. Many of IBM’s customers strive to be there someday, but need to get there in way that does not upset their existing application base. A “typical” driving force to move to cloud is the desire to get out of the data center business. But this does not have to involve a huge IT transformation. By deploying VMWare in the IBM Cloud, customers can operate their data center in the exact same way they do today, but VMWare is instead hosted in the IBM Cloud. Customers may be ready for their first Kubernetes-based containerized app deployment but they aren’t ready for it to be off-prem. Customers can get the full Kubernetes experience with IBM Cloud Private (ICP) on-prem and then move to a cloud-based Kubernetes cluster offering when ready. Customers may even be ready to host their first public cloud application but are not comfortable with moving their corporate data off-prem. This is the one aspect of the hybrid cloud model and IBM fully embraces this paradigm offering many ways to enable hybrid applications (cloud to/from data center, cloud to cloud, etc.). IBM also readily admits that most enterprises will not standardize on a single cloud vendor, but instead take a multi-cloud approach. IBM’s Cloud Automation Manager and Multi-Cloud Manager as a part of its ICP capabilities are beginning to offer solutions to govern and manage this strategy using a single pane of glass.
One could argue that casting such a wide net creates weaknesses in some aspects of its cloud offerings where other vendors focus all their efforts. Such is the life of IBM. IBM has a truly unique perspective to this problem and an even more unique customer base that it must keep happy throughout this “journey to the cloud.” But what I do know is that when given the opportunity IBM usually is able to compete and many times win. Stay tuned to this blog as I examine more aspects of the IBM Cloud.