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As IBM looks to battle Amazon Web Services for cloud computing supremacy, it brings a long history to the table, but its most promising strategy so far may lie in its newest endeavors.
IBM's strategy so far has been selling infrastructure as a service to enterprises and C-level executives, but platform as a service (PaaS), where IBM offers Bluemix PaaS based on Cloud Foundry, will be the next battleground, industry observers said.
"There's been a big transfer of power from CIOs to developers," said Joe Emison, founder and CTO at Asheville, N.C.'s BuildFax, which maintains a national database of 150 million building permits based on Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. "Anything developers pick that they say allows them to deliver better software more quickly is going to win."
Cognitive computing and the Watson API
IBM SoftLayer customers and business partners are enthusiastic about developing to IBM Bluemix PaaS APIs, most notably the API that can connect applications to IBM's Watson for cognitive computing, also known as machine learning.
For Eric Swayne, director of product and strategy for MutualMind, Dallas-based software as a service social analytics platform provider, the Watson API is the hottest project his company is working on.
James Statenanalyst, Forrester Research
MutualMind tracks and reports on social media, and sentiment and personality analysis from Watson will be a big addition to the platform, Swayne said.
"We're going to roll Watson's personality insights into our rules engine, so we can start asking questions like, 'if sentiment is negative and this individual is open to change,' then I might actually take a different action because I know more about their personality," Swayne said.
IBM is a bit ahead of the market with the Watson API, which is currently in beta. Microsoft and Google remain in the research phases with their own cognitive computing/machine learning products. Amazon has a collection of products with machine learning features, such as Elastic MapReduce, and third-party machine learning products in its marketplace, but no direct equivalent.
"Having an Artificial Intelligence system available that's first in the market is a smart thing to do, because hopefully you'll get a bunch of people using it and making Watson smarter," said Tom Luczak, CTO for Flow Corp., which is also integrating its data analytics application with Watson as part of the beta program.
Cloud Foundry and Bluemix
The Watson API is just one part of an IBM Bluemix PaaS offering that's showed promise, analysts said.
But IBM is working to make Cloud Foundry its own, according to James Staten, analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.
"IBM sits in a pretty substantial leadership position on the Foundation's board and they very strongly intend to pull Cloud Foundry their direction," Staten said.
One of the things IBM is pushing for is core elements that make up Cloud Foundry today, such as the Tomcat Java web server and RabbitMQ message queuing system to be interchangeable with IBM's WebSphere Application Server and its own message queuing system.
"This could be really interesting as it plays out," Staten said.
IBM has the potential to unite its large on-premises WebSphere customer base with the cloud in Bluemix, which would put it in a strong position on hybrid cloud, Staten said.
"The fact that they're taking a stance and saying, 'yes, you can have this on-premises,' is going to start to hurt AWS, because as much as AWS makes the case that anything and everything can be run in the public cloud, there are a lot of enterprises that don't buy that,” Staten said.
However, Cloud Foundry can run on AWS as well, if customers want. As can a number of other independent PaaS platforms, such as Engine Yard, Heroku and CloudBees.
"They all run on AWS, which generates revenue for AWS at the end of the day," Staten said.
To counter IBM's moves in PaaS, Amazon will also have to curate its many discrete application services into a more cohesive offering for developers, Staten said.
As the market moves into the second stage of cloud adoption, where more coders who don't want to do the infrastructure side and rapid developers who want visual tools are joining the fray, they could be overwhelmed by the plethora of discrete AWS services, Staten said.
But the first signs this curation is coming from Amazon can be seen in the Cognito mobile platform, according to Staten.
"That's been very well received by developers building mobile apps," Staten said.