IBM and the Semantics of Cloud

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  September 29, 2021

For a technology that has existed for some 15 years, the form and meaning (or semantics) of cloud computing remains oddly unsettled. Depending on who you talk or listen to, cloud may or may not incorporate as-a-service (aaS) solutions for infrastructure (IaaS), platforms (PaaS) or software (SaaS). Clouds may be public (off-premises) or private (on-premises), or both (hybrid), and might or might not incorporate various public cloud services (multi-cloud). Most cloud service providers (SPs) act as hosts for often massive troves of customer data, but some argue that hosting services are not, per se, cloud.

Cloud SPs talk about themselves all the time, often at finely orchestrated public events. Less common are opportunities for analysts and other interested parties to directly engage with senior executives at Tier 1 cloud providers. Howard Boville, SVP of IBM Cloud recently hosted an update for analysts to discuss the company’s practical and strategic imperatives around cloud computing. Following are a few thoughts on this event.

Cloud as a business enabler

Boville began his remarks by emphasizing IBM’s longstanding strategic focus on supporting open, hybrid, multi-cloud solutions and environments. He also noted, “We don’t see cloud as a strategic destination for businesses in and of itself, because that isn’t how you derive business value. Instead, cloud is an enabling component.”

Why is that important? For two reasons. First and foremost, it reflects the attitudes of IBM’s core enterprise customers. Those companies never bought into the “once and future cloud” concept popular among industry cheerleaders a few years back—that centralized public cloud platforms were an inevitable destination that would eventually replace traditional data centers and IT assets. Instead, enterprises prefer to carefully manage and secure strategically vital applications and data and utilize appropriate cloud services for specific use cases and processes.

Second, focusing on the unique enabling capabilities of cloud is fully in keeping with the way that IBM has reimagined and reshaped its business over the past decade. The company was long known for its homegrown enterprise-class hardware and sophisticated consulting services, and it retains or has significantly evolved most of those offerings. However, IBM has also made substantial investments in developing and acquiring key open technologies that can be applied and add value across multiple industries, as well as its own and other vendors’ platforms, including cloud infrastructures.

In essence, IBM Cloud represents the practical and strategic “point” of the company’s go-to-market spear.

IBM Cloud’s enabling components

Boville said that a key differentiator for IBM is its focus on “Taking a business process-in approach as opposed to a technology-out approach.” That is, rather than developing general purpose or broadly applicable solutions as most of its competitors have done and continue to do, IBM focuses on creating cloud offerings that enhance vital business processes and industry-specific use cases.

Boville noted that the company’s substantial business consulting division, along with software developed by IBM’s Cloud and Cognitive Software division places it in a strong position to develop and deliver solutions that set it apart from competitors. IBM’s cloud-focused offerings and services include:

  • Compliance-focused solutions designed specifically for highly regulated verticals, including government, financial services, telecommunications and healthcare. A good example is the IBM Cloud for Financial Services which became generally available in April. These offerings reflect the company’s deep expertise in industry-specific business consulting, as well as IBM’s global footprint and ability to help customers meet national and regional regulatory requirements.
  • Confidential computing (a category IBM created) encrypts data at the highest levels both at rest and in flight without degrading system performance in any way. Boville noted that IBM’s confidential computing solutions have been “a great attraction to organizations that require the highest levels of confidential computing,” including digital asset and crypto currency companies.
  • Customer choice in terms of not being locked into any one cloud provider. Customers appreciate IBM’s open hybrid and multi cloud approach, and the company’s ability to span across on-premise environments into its own cloud and into other cloud providers’ environments. IBM Cloud Satellite (launched in March) is a distributed solution that enables cloud services to be deployed and consumed anywhere—on premises, on IBM Cloud, on other cloud service providers’ platforms and at the edge of corporate networks. Cloud Satellite also leverages strong partnerships IBM has with global telecommunications carriers.
  • Developer-focused solutions, like IBM Code Engine and IBM Security Compliance Center. The former (which became generally available in April) is a serverless code offering designed to markedly simplify developers’ work by removing complexities related to the underpinning infrastructure. The latter helps to ensure that developers’ efforts follow and adhere to security and compliance requirements.
  • Cloud-optimizing IBM Systems, including the recently announced Power E1080 servers which IBM said, “Was designed to be the backbone of a hybrid cloud platform.” That was achieved through significant improvements in IBM’s new Power10 processors, deep integration with Red Hat OpenShift and Power Virtual Server, and support for hybrid cloud-ready applications across Linux, AIX and IBM i, including IBM Cloud Paks 4.0, SAP HANA and EPIC. As Boville noted, “(Systems) will be put together in a way that delivers business value aligned to business processes.” Customers can expect similar hybrid cloud-focused features and functionalities across the company’s other system solutions, including IBM Z mainframe, LinuxONE and IBM Storage.

Final analysis

During the briefing, Boville was joined by IBM Cloud colleagues Rohit Badlaney, VP Product Management, Briana Frank, Director of Product Management and Jason McGee, IBM Fellow, VP and CTO, IBM Cloud. In addition, IBM customer Christian Elsner, CFO, University Medical Center Mainz, Germany detailed a project utilizing IBM Cloud Satellite to develop a secure messaging system for medical staff, and management apps for Covid testing and vaccination appointments.

They provided additional depth and insights into IBM Cloud’s strategic focus and development efforts with a strong emphasis on enhancing business processes and performance. The briefing also provided details on the recently announced IBM Cloud Multizone Region (MZR) in Spain and its new agreement with CaixaBank, an effort designed to boost the bank’s digital capabilities to serve its 21 million customers by joining the MZR and embracing IBM Cloud for Financial Services.

The essential message of the briefing and of IBM Cloud’s core strategy was the continuing, growing vital importance of utilizing technology to benefit business and organizational goals. Succeeding in that endeavor is not dependent on technology alone. Instead, it requires a sizable capacity for technological innovation and dedication to serving the needs of customers and industries.

The crucial importance of customers and their business goals is largely or entirely missing from many vendors’ discussions about cloud computing. For IBM and its leaders, customers have long been and will remain central to the form and meaning of IBM Cloud.

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