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IBM's hybrid cloud plans extend AI to users across platforms

IBM doubles down on its hybrid cloud strategy with tools to help customers funnel data through their chosen cloud platform and apply IBM's AI to it all.

SAN FRANCISCO -- IBM plans to expand its presence in the competitive hybrid cloud market with applications and tools that help customers shift apps to the cloud and connect data across private and public platforms.

The boldest part of IBM's hybrid cloud plans, revealed through multiple rollouts at the IBM Think event, is that each technology is not exclusive to IBM's cloud and the Watson AI platform. Rather, it also works with cloud services from AWS, Google and Microsoft -- as well as on-premises environments.

However, whether large enterprises will actually adopt and run Watson-based AI workloads on AWS, Microsoft and Google cloud platforms remains to be seen. Those companies have their own formidable cloud and AI-based offerings, not to mention their own sizable market share over IBM.

By making its technology compatible with its competitors, IBM acknowledged that most enterprises now support a mix of private and public clouds from multiple vendors, with hundreds of applications that crisscross cloud environments. AWS and Microsoft, meanwhile, have shown a reluctance to craft their services to run on competitors' clouds.

"Amazon and Microsoft want to keep you on their platform, but IBM recognized that, if they are going to be successful against these two, they had to take a different approach," said Judith Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates LLC, a consultancy based in Needham, Mass.

IBM's hybrid cloud formula: Bring it to customers' data

IBM unveiled its IBM Cloud Integration Platform, intended to speed the launch of new services and applications that span multiple cloud environments. The platform connects with applications and services from any vendor to assemble integration tools corporate developers need to work in a single development environment.

The company also introduced IBM Services for Multicloud Management, which resulted from IBM's partnership with ServiceNow, to help IT professionals more easily manage a range of IT resources among multiple cloud providers for both on-premises and private clouds.

Additionally, IBM released new consulting services to complement its Multicloud Management service. IBM will manage the services through its IBM Services for Cloud Strategy and Design practice. Teams of consultants will use open multi-cloud tools to help corporate users with development, migration and modernization.

The success of IBM's aggressive advance on AWS and Microsoft may hinge on the fact that it has applied a consistent architecture across all of its cloud, cloud management and AI offerings.

The key to IBM's ability to work with its competitors is that all the pieces are built on a common architecture and based on core cloud standards, such as Kubernetes and Docker, Hurwitz said. IBM's hybrid cloud strategy also aims to introduce AI capabilities so enterprises can more easily deploy and manage AI workloads at scale.

Dana GardnerDana Gardner

IBM is gung-ho on the idea that AI is no longer a platform. Rather, it is a dynamic workload that can move to where the data is and not the other way around, said Dana Gardner, president and principal analyst with Interarbor Solutions LLC, based in Gilford, N.H.

IBM's move to make its AI platform compatible with those of its competitors is a step toward democratizing the public cloud and essentially changes the rules for competing in the hybrid cloud market, Gardner added.

"It's no longer a question of who has the best hardware or price performance," he said. "It's now who has the best AI platform and how efficiently it delivers the necessary data. AI could end up being the killer app for hybrid clouds for all these companies."

It's no longer a question of who has the best hardware or price performance … AI could end up being the killer app for hybrid clouds.
Dana GardnerPresident and principal analyst, Interarbor Solutions LLC

IBM's cloud business appears to have advanced. Last month, the company signed a five-year deal with Smart Energy Water, a SaaS provider focused on the energy and utility markets. The company has migrated workloads to IBM Cloud and plans to use IBM's analytics and AI capabilities to speed its application development.

IBM also signed a $500 million deal with Vodafone to provide managed services to Vodafone Business' cloud unit and codevelop products and services that integrate Vodafone's IoT, 5G and edge computing technologies with IBM's hybrid and multi-cloud offerings.

A major part of IBM's hybrid cloud plan involves Red Hat, which will become part of its hybrid cloud unit, although IBM promises the company will remain independent. When IBM disclosed its Red Hat acquisition, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said the deal represented a focus on open source and proprietary battles in the cloud and that an IBM-Red Hat alliance would reshape the hybrid cloud landscape.

IBM likely won't reveal many details this week about how IBM and Red Hat hybrid cloud offerings dovetail, because the $34 billion acquisition is not expected to close until the second half of this year.

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