IBM Announces Plans to Buy Cloudant

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  February 26, 2104

At its Pulse 2014 conference in Las Vegas, IBM announced a definitive agreement to acquire Boston, MA-based Cloudant, Inc., a privately held database-as-a-service (DBaaS) provider that enables developers to easily and quickly create next generation mobile and web apps. According to IBM, Cloudant will extend the company’s Big Data and Analytics, Cloud Computing and Mobile offerings. Cloudant’s 260 customers occupy a variety of industries, such as gaming, financial services, mobile device manufacturers, online learning, retail and healthcare, and its customers include Novartis, Fidelity Investments, Monsanto and U.S. government intelligence agencies.

Cloudant actively contributes to/participates in the Apache CouchDBTM and leverages the open source JSON NoSQL database and related technologies to deliver innovative, highly available and scalable mobile device synchronization. Using Cloudant’s JSON cloud-based data service, mobile and web developers can quickly and easily store and access mobile data using the company’s innovative, easy to use API. Increasingly, developers have embraced NoSQL databases because of their flexibility, and JSON has become the predominant NoSQL database technology for mobile and web app developers.

IBM believes that Cloudant will complement its Big Data and Analytics portfolio by providing a NoSQL DBaaS (database as a service) that enables clients to simplify and accelerate the development of engaging, scalable mobile and web apps. Cloudant should also be integral to IBM’s MobileFirst solutions, and the company allows developers who use IBM’s Worklight mobile app development software to create flexible, reliable and scalable apps that incorporate a variety of structured and unstructured data.

Delivered as a managed cloud service, Cloudant technology ensures that app developers no longer need to be experts in database management, while database administrators (DBA) can focus on higher value tasks beyond mundane administration. IBM also said the acquisition will strengthen its cloud solutions portfolio by providing developers tools and resources to build, test, deploy and scale cloud apps on a variety of hosting layers. Cloudant currently runs on the IBM SoftLayer platform, thus extending IBM’s investment in SoftLayer’s cloud infrastructure.

The Pitch

Cloudant sharpens/extends the focus on IBM’s cloud strategy on enterprise developers.

Final Analysis

One of the first questions you learn to ask in professional communications is, “Who is your audience?” There are certainly practical issues involved in the query; no one wants to waste time and money preparing a message or campaign that will go straight over the heads of the people it’s supposedly meant to reach. But the question can also act as something of a Rorschach Test—you can learn a lot about what a company is and what it thinks it is from its description of core audiences and customers.

What does this have to do with IBM’s decision to acquire Cloudant? First, it shines a light on a sizable corner of the IT market devoted to creating and selling cloud computing services. But in doing so, it also illuminates divisions within the IT industry about what constitutes cloud, and also helps to clarify IBM’s related position. To that point, divisions among cloud true believers often take on a religious tone and touch amorphous issues that are about as substantive and likely of resolution as attempting to determine the number of angels that can twerk on the head of a pin.

The IBM and Cloudant deal is much more down to earth in highlighting the two companies’ primary focus on developers working for large enterprises. For such workers and their employers, IT services must meet a list of substantial requirements related to availability, reliability and support, application scalability and data security. Without those attributes, most enterprises will continue to do what they have so far in regards to private cloud: sit out the party until a cloud services player that understands their needs comes along.

That the service provider that finally does so is IBM shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone. The company’s historical focus on enterprise customers and its deep understanding of their computing infrastructure requirements, development organizations and other IT practices is well-known in the industry to the point where competitors sometimes use it as a goad. But in Cloudant, IBM appears to have found a kindred spirit.

The company has built its cloud service offerings on a foundation of deep expertise and JSON NoSQL database assets to deliver solutions for developers in rapidly growing web and mobile app markets. Cloudant’s focus on clients in 34 countries is complementary to IBM’s own global footprint, and the company is part of the BlueMix cloud ops environment also announced at Pulse 2014. Plus, the fact that Cloudant is a longtime partner of IBM Softlayer (the pair collaborates on optimized database services) suggests the relationship won’t require much of a “getting to know you” period.

Perhaps most interesting is how Cloudant reflects the degree to which IBM is becoming comfortable with itself. There have been times in the past when the company maintained and managed businesses that were distant from its core interests and competencies. Some of those were related to technologies IBM developed but whose markets had begun to stagnate or decline. Others reflected experiments by long departed executives. Still others represented good and profitable businesses that were better managed by other vendors.

Over the past decade, IBM has steadily gotten what might be called its House of Blue in order in ways that are ultimately beneficial to its customers and shareholders. As a result, whether Cloudant or any other IBM service passes muster among cloud purists is likely of little concern to the company. At the end of the day, it is far more important that IBM clearly understands who its real enterprise audience is and successfully develops or acquires the resources those customers need to succeed and prosper.

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