IBM’s Cloud Private for Data—The Next Enterprise Platform

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  May 30, 2018

The idea of computing platforms has been discussed by IT industry analyst firms for years, fueling reams of reports and service engagements designed to help enterprise customers come to terms with ever-evolving computing trends. The concept held up pretty well initially, since the first two platforms were closely aligned with well-established mainframe and client/server architectures.

This provides context for a blog that Rob Thomas, GM of IBM’s Analytics organization, posted this week titled, “The Next Enterprise Platform.” In it, Thomas laid-out an argument for what constitutes such a platform, including the ability to span on-premises private cloud and public cloud environments in a consistent manner. In addition, since such platforms “have to start where the data is,” that necessitates that successful efforts will be designed “from the enterprise out.”

Thomas focused his comments on how IBM is addressing those and other complementary points with its new IBM Cloud Private (ICP) for Data platform and services. Let’s consider those points and how close they are to hitting the Next Enterprise Platform mark.

Take to the highway

As a central metaphor for his discussion, Thomas chose the 48,000 miles of U.S. Interstate Highway System which was developed, designed and constructed following WWII. As he noted, the highway system “Provided an easy way to integrate disparate cities and communities with a single nervous system.” But it also had other profound effects, including addressing traffic congestion, encouraging the movement and sharing of goods, and sparking, “a wave of second order businesses, like gas stations, motels, rest areas, trucking and fast food.”

Thomas stated that the design and construction technologies underlying the interstates “enabled the free flow of goods and changed commerce forever.” Then he applied that metaphor to the ways in which computing platforms, like “mainframe, client/server, operating system, cloud and multi-cloud” have “enabled productivity to soar and innovation to flourish.”

Is Thomas’ argument sound? Yes, but I’d take it a step further and note the ways that platforms encouraged new, often unique business and consumer behavior. In fact, if you wanted to compare computing platforms with more ubiquitous system solutions, you could say that while systems are designed to enable or improve applications and workloads, platforms are developed and evolve to address and enhance business processes and behaviors.

Thomas’ comparison of computing platforms to the interstate highway system is a sound one, even allowing that the highway system was originally designed to facilitate the movement of military personnel, equipment and materiel. That’s one reason the Internet, initially another Department of Defense (DoD) project, is sometimes called the Information Superhighway.

As he wrote, interstate highways massively improved a wide range of business processes occurring locally, statewide and nationwide, and spawned entirely new businesses. But it is worth noting that the benefits in transportation those new highways delivered are still being felt today. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how online retailers, including Amazon could really be successful without the visionary infrastructure investments that the Federal and state governments, as well as thousands of businesses made over half a century ago.

IBM’s ICP for Data platform

So, what exactly is IBM offering in ICP for Data? As its foundation, the platform leverages the Kubernetes container-based, “no assembly required” Cloud Private for Data solution the company announced at its THINK conference in March. That solution can be deployed internally as a private cloud or easily integrated with IBM Cloud and other public cloud platforms to take advantage of a full range of services, including robust analytics features and functions. In other words, ICP for Data works from the enterprise out.

Thomas noted that since introducing Cloud Private for Data, IBM has extended and augmented its data management support to MongoDB and EnterpriseDB Postgres databases. As a result, those solutions for, respectively, open source document and object-relational database management can be accessed, managed and provisioned through the ICP for Data platform.

In addition, IBM has integrated with Red Hat’s Openshift container application program. Meaning that along with Kubernetes, customers will be able to extend their use of IBM middleware, like WebSphere, along with workloads running on Cloud Private for Data systems to virtually any cloud running Openshift. The company has also integrated its IBM Data Risk Manager with the platform, making ICP for Data valuable for companies impacted by the EU’s recently implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Finally, even as the interstate highway system influenced and helped to launch a host of new, previously unconsidered business opportunities, Thomas noted that the integration of data sources enabled by the ICP for Data platform makes major steps toward enterprise class artificial intelligence. As he noted, “AI will not replace people but people who don’t embrace AI may be replaced by people who do.”

Final analysis

Are Rob Thomas and IBM correct in positioning ICP for Data as the Next Enterprise Platform? It’s certainly an intriguing claim, especially given the solutions support for a broad range of open source container and database technologies. Add in critical new features, including the integration with IBM’s Data Risk Manager, and the results should be compelling for IBM customers.

But as I noted before, the difference between computing platforms and systems resides in the new and unique behaviors the former enables and inspires. As has become increasingly clear over the past two years, the vast majority of enterprises have little, if any interest in deploying most, let alone all their IT assets and processes in public cloud infrastructures.

As a result, those organizations are closely attuned to the core “from the enterprise out” functionality offered by ICP for Data. Whether they will adopt the platform and utilize it in new, imaginative ways to garner additional value and insights from their data assets is impossible to know today. But with ICP for Data, they will enjoy powerful new means of seamlessly exploring and implementing those capabilities.

Finally, it is worth noting that though it eventually benefitted thousands of cities and tens of millions of people, the interstate highway system also left many behind. People and towns near the new routes quickly came to realize that offramps and cloverleafs were critical to fully gaining and exploiting those opportunities. Those who missed out or, even worse, were bypassed by the interstate highways faced serious, often unwinnable struggles.

That brings us to Thomas’ comment about the potential difficulties faced by organizations that fail to embrace new innovations, like AI. Fortunately, enterprises can follow their own chosen paths when it comes to AI and other technologies, and not be beholden to government agencies and planning commissions. With ICP for Data, IBM is providing powerful new tools and capabilities that will help organizations plan, embrace and achieve the future they envision.

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