IBM Charts Multi-Cloud Progress

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  November 21, 2017

Though the tech industry is subject to consistent and considerable disruption it’s hard to think of a more fundamentally disruptive technology than cloud computing.

Why do I say that? For three reasons:

  1. First, because the success of early cloud movers and shakers (especially AWS), enabled businesses and consumers to effectively sidestep IT powers that be, including system and software vendors.
  2. In addition, cloud takes advantage of compute infrastructures developed, implemented and managed by companies that mainly do business with ODM manufacturers, putting further pressure on traditional enterprise vendors.
  3. Finally, by essentially outsourcing IT functions to cloud service providers (CSPs), organizations also cut back engagements with IT services professionals and organizations.

Despite those and other challenges, it isn’t impossible for mainstream vendors to succeed with cloud initiatives. In fact, IBM moved forcefully into cloud computing with numerous, continuing strategic investments and initiatives. It also made cloud one of its five Strategic Imperatives (along with analytics, mobile, social and security), and announced in its most recent earnings call that IBM Cloud drove $15.8B in company revenues over the last 12 months.

On November 1-2, the company hosted media and analyst events in New York City to detail its cloud-related efforts and progress. Following are a few thoughts on what I saw and heard there.

Paving the path to multi-cloud

The first event was hosted by executives from IBM Cloud and associated business units, with sessions that highlighted cloud-specific services and initiatives.

Those ranged from a tour of IBM’s Cloud Garage program (at the Galvanize facility in West Soho) to detailed discussions of the company’s cloud offerings (including the new Cloud Private platform I discussed in last week’s Review) and customer migrations to how cloud complements and is complemented by IBM’s Watson Data Platform, advanced analytics and AI solutions to cloud-specific developer services to how the company is tailoring cloud for specific business needs and industry use cases.

As noted in my Review on Cloud Private, the needs of enterprise customers are as central to IBM Cloud as they are to every other solution and service offered by the company. Related to that is the underlying intent of these solutions to support and implement “multi-cloud” environments.

Those can consist of a company’s internal IT infrastructures recast with cloud-style access and management tools, hybrid clouds that allow specific applications and data to seamlessly utilize both private and public cloud infrastructures and processes and workloads that leverage specialty CSPs or services.

The main point is to use cloud-related technologies to help enterprises transform IT. IBM achieves that by helping clients move existing workloads to the cloud, modernize and speed developer-driven processes with containers and other innovative technologies, and build new cloud-native applications.

Customer testimonials and executive presentations

Just how that process unfolds can be different or even unique for various clients. For example, one of the most fascinating sessions in the IBM Cloud event was a customer testimonial by American Airlines (AA) detailing how IBM helped the company deal with an odd glitch in its reservations system.

It began when AA’s former CEO, Don Carty, attempted to check-in online for a flight he was taking with his grandson, Don Carty Jr., and discovered that AA didn’t allow two people with the same name to check-in via the Web site or its phone app. After Carty alerted the company to the issue, management believed it would be relatively simple to fix but that assumption was way off base.

Instead, AA discovered that it had become an unwitting victim of what might be called “developer sprawl” in the sense that the company, its Web site and the American Airlines mobile app all used separate, fully-siloed programs. Sorting out the mess required a year-long effort between the three organizations that succeeded with the help of IBM Cloud’s digital transformation solutions and services.

Other sessions were also engaging. I was especially taken with Faiyaz Shahpurwala, GM of IBM Cloud Platform, discussing IBM Cloud from business value perspectives, including the company’s expanding footprint of nearly 60 cloud data centers in 19 countries, and its strategic relationships with key enterprise-focused partners, including SAP and VMware.

Similarly, the presentation by Don Rippert, CTO, IBM Industry Platforms Unit, on how IBM Cloud is developing service ecosystems for specific industries was compelling in the ways it reflected earlier industry-specific IBM efforts. The group has also been effective in helping customers effectively embrace emerging technologies, including Blockchain (in financial services organizations) and Watson Analytics (in healthcare and life sciences).

Finally, a panel discussion (featuring Don Boulia, GM, IBM Cloud Developer Services, Dr. Angel Diaz, VP, IBM Developer Technology & Advocacy and Jason McGee, IBM Fellow, VP & CTO of IBM Cloud Platform) on IBM’s Developer First strategy and solutions was enlightening. Why so? Because it underscored the critical positions developers hold in enabling and supporting cloud projects, and the considerable investments IBM has made and continues to make in developer-focused partnerships, programs and communities.

Multi-cloud and Data Science for All

During the days’ sessions, Rob Thomas, GM of IBM Analytics offered a presentation, Why IBM for Data? that focused on the value IBM’s advanced analytics solutions and services provide to customers and partners. Thomas addressed similarities between the public sharing of private experiences and how organizations are leveraging both private and public cloud platforms.

The resulting rise of “multi-cloud” use cases and related applications are issues IBM has proactively moved to support with solutions that facilitate how customers collect, organize, move and analyze data. That last point—data analytics—is obviously central to Thomas’ organization, and he discussed the work IBM is doing in five areas: unified data governance, hybrid data management, data visualization and analytics, related open source projects (Hadoop, Spark and others) and data science and machine learning.

Thomas also detailed new IBM offerings and deepening core data analysis capabilities, and focused on how one customer, AMC Networks, is using IBM solutions and services to quickly and effectively glean insights from billions of rows of audience data. The company then leverages that information to enhance its video on demand services and related data-driven marketing efforts.

Later in the evening, Thomas was featured in a live webcast: Data Science for All: It’s a Whole New Game at Metropolitan West. Hosted by TV personality Katie Linendoll, the event also included lively interviews with Thomas’ colleague, Daniel Hernandez, VP of IBM Analytics Offering Management, renowned statistician Nate Silver of and a panel discussion on How We Get to Data Science for All that Linendoll moderated with Tricia Wang of Sudden Compass, Michael Li of Data Incubator and Nir Kaldero of Galvanize.

Thomas aimed his remarks on the practical effects AI will have on organizations and larger markets, as well as what businesses need to do to prepare themselves for these changes. At one level, AI is a natural approach to managing and gaining value from ever-larger masses of data.

Pervasive automation of data-centric tasks and processes, including machine and deep learning is critical for businesses that hope to get the most out of their information investments. Thomas likened the state of AI projects to other “transformational moments” enabled by technology innovations, including cloud computing and mobile solutions, that fundamentally changed organizations and the way they used IT.

Along with a growing portfolio of AI-centric solutions and services, IBM is focusing on providing access to data “wherever it resides” and on helping customers glean additional value from that information. Those offerings can certainly be used by data scientists and similar professionals, but the company also recognizes that many businesses will begin their AI journeys more modestly.

For those organizations, the company is offering a new “Data Science Elite” service that provides free consultations with data scientists who help customers create their initial data models and sketch out larger projects.

IBM Global Services

The third event I attended was an analyst forum hosted by IBM Global Services at the company’s facility in Midtown Manhattan. The keynote by Martin Jetter, SVP of IBM’s Global Technology Services (GTS) and Mark Foster, SVP of Global Business Services (GBS) included long term strategy details under NDA but the other sessions offered valuable insights worth discussing.

First and foremost is that the two organizations’ separate marketing and client-facing efforts have been integrated, resulting in a single IBM Services brand. That may seem a bit arcane but it’s a critical issue given the impact that those businesses have on IBM’s business and financial performance.

Consider that as they have done for many years, IBM GTS and GBS together drive nearly half of IBM’s total revenues. However, despite what many perceive to be the pair’s “services” similarities, the groups function very differently. GTS primarily performs infrastructure support and hardware consulting, while GBS focuses on software-related services and consulting.

However, many customer engagements involve both GTS and GBS professionals. That, plus the remarkable improvements IT offers key business processes is erasing the traditional boundaries between business and technology. That point was highlighted in testimonials by representatives from Economical Insurance and McLane, Co., both longtime IBM customers. It was also central to sessions on “co-creating” service engagements with IBM clients and in interactive demonstrations of new Services solutions, including those aligned with IBM’s five Strategic Imperatives.

Finally, I attended smaller group roundtable discussions, one on IBM Cloud’s offerings for SAP’s HANA in-memory database workloads, and the other on reinventing the workplace with mobile technologies, including IBM Cloud-based customer service solutions. These sessions, as well as the broader sessions at the IBM Global Services Analyst Forum were fascinating and well-worth my time.

Final analysis

Tech industry observers love to discuss whether and how vendors “walk the talk” in regard to making often-lofty positions and strategies real. In that sense, IBM’s three New York events demonstrated how and how well the efforts and offerings related to IBM Cloud have permeated through the company, and are offering new ways to engage with and bring value to customers.

Those engagements run the gamut from support for core multi-cloud adoption and migration to AI solutions and Data Science for All initiatives to evolutionary, cloud-inspired integrated IBM Services offerings. Taken together, the events clearly demonstrated why IBM has been and continues to be a central figure in its customers’ efforts to address the disruptions of and gain the full value from cloud computing.

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