IBM's acquisition of Cloudant this week gives Big Blue a way to attract developers to its cloud service, but the company must sustain a rapid-fire development pace to surpass competitors.
IBM is the latest major technology company to enter the Database as a Service
IBM already has a lot of middleware, which is the broad software category Boston-based startup Cloudant's software occupies, but most of it is structured to be sold on-premises. IBM is integrating many of its existing software titles with SoftLayer, but chose to acquire its NoSQL DBaaS instead.
This is in part because time is of the essence for IBM in establishing a competitive foothold in the cloud services market, since simply matching services with AWS won't be enough, according to John Rymer, analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.
"It will be on IBM to make those services more relevant to enterprises, because that is their goal," Rymer said. "That is their market: high scale, high reliability, high security."
NoSQL databases are typically used in the development of modern scale-out Web applications, as they allow for indexing of unstructured information alongside the structured tables of the traditional SQL database and lend themselves to lightweight, horizontal scaling.
High availability and disaster recovery capabilities in Cloudant are a big reason IBM chose it over other vendors in the NoSQL space, according to Robert LeBlanc, senior vice president of software and cloud for IBM, during a press conference this week.
IBM's purchase of Cloudant for an undisclosed sum allows the company to directly compete against Amazon's DynamoDB Database as a Service, also based on NoSQL. Other providers offering NoSQL DBaaS (mainly through partnerships with MongoDB, Redis and other open-source NoSQL platforms) include Google Inc., Joyent, Rackspace and Microsoft.
IBM ups the ante in the race to the cloud
IBM needs to keep pushing its cloud services to make up ground already lost to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google and SalesForce.com in global developer adoption, according to the results of a 2013 Forrester Forrsights Developer Survey of more than 1,800 developers globally. Those four vendors were mentioned ahead of IBM in that survey when developers were asked what services they use, Rymer said.
"IBM was fifth on the list, but the usage was much, much lower," Rymer said. "There are lots of folks that want IBM to be in this game … but they've been behind the top four in putting together a complete portfolio and an overall strategy. So they need to hurry."
Developers are looking for rapid development environments. They don't want to deal with things that they're going to have to manage operationally. Hence, DBaaS is an increasingly popular offering, according to Eric Alterman, CEO of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based information-streaming company Flow Search Corp., which partnered with IBM to offer real-time data analytics services.
"I see it being massively useful for enterprise customers," Alterman said.
In general, the recent DBaaS plays show that the battle for cloud supremacy is moving up the stack, according to Alterman.
"Infrastructure as a Service is the ante to be in the game," he said. "Once you're over that hurdle, what's next? The whole game is going to be: What services can you add that are going to be compelling?"