IBM Deepens/Widens its Commitment to Open Technologies

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  October 17, 2018

That open technologies are still evolving and succeeding some two decades after the emergence of the pioneer Open Source Initiative and early commercial Linux distributions qualifies as, at the very least, a small miracle. Not only did open source products and standards challenge the orthodoxy of leading, seemingly indomitable vendors but many of those companies, including Microsoft, considered open source to be explicitly subversive and dangerous.

On the other hand, some vendors recognized and successfully exploited the potential value that open technologies offered to largely or entirely proprietary platforms. Those efforts were not without controversy. For example, IBM raised more than a few eyebrows by announcing that it would not just support Linux distributions but that the first platform to do so would be the company’s signature mainframe systems.

IBM’s open commitment didn’t begin and end with the mainframe. Over the past two decades, the company has continued to plow significant energy and billions of investment dollars into creating, developing and supporting a wide variety of open technology platforms and initiatives.

This week’s launch of IBM’s new AI OpenScale platform, its Multi-Cloud Manager and Security Connect services find the company breaking significant new ground while following a long familiar open technologies path. Let’s consider these new offerings and their implications for IBM and the broader market.

The open/shut case for open tech

Why has open technology become so critical for IT vendors and their customers alike? In large part because it reflects interoperability issues and associated trends that power the vast majority of IT organizations.

It can be difficult to see those points unless you look behind the doors of organizations’ data centers where heterogeneous IT—hardware and software from numerous, often disparate vendors—rules the day. Systems and platforms are employed according to their specific strengths and/or the preference of IT staff, and the notion of homogeneous, single-vendor solutions inhabits a continuingly dwindling portion of the landscape.

That reality has been the case since the boom, but there have also been downsides. Managing and maintaining heterogeneous IT can be painfully complex and costly, leading most vendors to develop increasingly powerful interoperability features and functions. In addition, demand for interoperable flexibility has accelerated since the emergence of cloud computing.

It’s not just that public clouds tend to employ and support open technologies themselves. The fact is that the vast majority of their customers treat cloud platforms in the same way they do the hardware and software they own—utilizing whichever clouds best supports specific needs and use cases. Hence the increasing focus vendors are placing on management solutions and platforms for “multi-cloud” environments.

Interoperability is also a defining issue for leading-edge solutions in other areas, notably artificial intelligence (AI) development and cybersecurity. Why so? Because both markets, and the IT infrastructures of business customers, tend to be crowded with numerous, often highly-specialized solutions, though for different reasons.

In the case of AI, the market is in early stages with hundreds of players, from tiny start-ups to humongous vendors vying for a piece of the pie. On the other hand, diversity has long been a characteristic of the cybersecurity market, and that situation seems likely to continue. How diverse? According to an IBM analysis of its clients’ IT environments, enterprise cybersecurity teams, on average, employ over 80 different products from 40 different vendors.

Is it any surprise that organizations both desire and need help with interoperability while maintaining their preference for open technologies?

IBM: Where open and interoperable meet

So what is IBM bringing to the table? This week, the company introduced three discrete new open platforms with enhanced interoperable capabilities:

  1. IBM AI OpenScale – is an open platform for creating, managing and running AI projects while using the integrated development environments they choose. At launch, it supports machine learning and deep learning models developed and trained in any open source model, including Tensorflow, Scikit-learn, Keras, and SparkML. AI OpenScale also supports applications and models trained and hosted in integrated development environments, including IBM Watson, Seldon, AWS SageMaker and AzureML. AI OpenScale integrates and expands upon IBM’s recently announced Trust and Transparency capabilities which are designed to prevent bias in AI by ensuring that AI recommendations are fully explainable, traceable and auditable regardless of whether they run on customers’ private clouds, in an IBM cloud or in other vendors’ cloud environments. Finally, AI OpenScale also supports NeuNetS, a new automated neural network synthesis engine that automates and significantly reduces the time required for building/evolving neural networks for specific business tasks.
  2. IBM Multi-Cloud Manager – is a platform for creating multi-cloud systems that, according to the company, provides enhanced visibility across different clouds and clusters, improved governance and security via an integrated compliance and rules engine, and lessened complexity and risk through automated decision-making features and processes. Multi-Cloud Manager runs on IBM’s Cloud Private, a Kubernetes-based container orchestration platform. It also features a new dashboard interface for managing thousands of Kubernetes applications and related data wherever they are located, including on-premises IT infrastructures and public cloud environments.
  3. IBM Security Connect – is a security cloud platform designed to analyze federated security data across previously unconnected tools and environments.” The engines for analysis are machine learning and AI functions, including Watson for Cybersecurity services which can address specific business outcomes, such as SOC operations and digital trust. Security Connect offers an open framework with unique SDKs, APIs and microservices for developing new applications. The platform also integrates with and leverages data from existing security solutions and data repositories, so users can quickly connect with their data and automatically federate it for prioritizing and responding to threats. IBM strategic partners, including Cisco, Capgemini, Carbon Black, Check Point, CrowdStrike, EY, ForeScout, Forcepoint, Fortinet, McAfee, Qualys, Smarttech, Symantec, Tenable, Trend Micro and VMware have committed to integrating with IBM Security Connect to improve data sharing for joint clients. Security Connect will be the home for IBM’s Security App Exchange and IBM Security applications. Plus, the company will champion new open standards and open source projects in security areas.

Final analysis

It would be easy to argue that technological interoperability has resulted from and been a driver of modern business computing innovation. Though its origins are rooted in IT workforce behavior, its evolution through the development of open technologies and open standards has been driven by forces, including the substantial commitments and investments of IT vendors, like IBM.

The company’s new AI OpenScale, Multi-Cloud Manager and Security Connect platforms and solutions demonstrate that open technologies are every bit as vital today as they were when IBM announced its support for Linux two decades ago. Now, as then, IBM is moving ahead in a concerted manner that takes into account and leverages the aims and needs of its customers and strategic partners.

The willingness to openly collaborate in pursuit of a larger good is what initially set open technologies apart from conventionally proprietary, siloed, single-vendor products. As IBM’s newest AI, multi-cloud and security solutions attest, open, willing collaboration continues to fuel innovations designed to meet the changing needs of modern businesses.

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