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IBM hybrid cloud, AI offerings ease data integration

IBM rolled out new hybrid cloud and AI offerings this week, while CEO Arvind Krishna offered his vision for how those technologies will reshape business.

IBM's never-ending tour espousing the strategic importance of hybrid clouds and AI made its latest stop at the Think conference where the company debuted products that extend and more deeply integrate the two technologies.

The company debuted an AI-based intelligent data fabric designed to automate and manage data management tasks to help IT pros discover and protect far-flung data across multiple environments, as well as bring together data sources spread across a common data foundation.

Forming part of that fabric is the previously released Palantir for IBM Cloud Pak for Data, an AI-based offering that automates the process of how users access and manage data, enabling them to get answers to distributed queries much faster.

A new AutoSQL feature automates how users access and integrate data without having to move it from one location to another. It solves a common problem users have in reducing the complexity of curating data for AI and eliminating the expenses associated with moving that data.

Another AI-driven product is Watson Orchestrate, which increases productivity across all departments in larger corporations. The offering, which requires no programming skills, can use collaboration tools such as Slack and email in natural language. It also can connect users with a number of business applications, including Salesforce, SAP and Workday.

The AI capabilities built into Watson Orchestrate can select sequences the pre-packaged skills need to perform a task, and then connect with applications and data on-the-fly, freeing-up users to pursue more important tasks.

IBM's hybrid cloud strategy

In his keynote address, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna emphasized that future technologies won't be delivered by any one company and that it will take a concerted effort among many high-tech companies to put all the necessary pieces in place. The collaborative effort, of course, will have hybrid clouds and AI at its center.

Arvind Krishna, IBM CEOArvind Krishna

"In the same way we electrified factories and machines in the past century, we will use hybrid cloud to infuse AI into software and systems in the 21st century," he said.

"One thing is certain: This future must be built on a foundation of deep industry collaboration. No one understands this better than IBM, which is one of the reasons we are boosting investment in our partner ecosystem," he said, pointing to IBM's aggressive efforts over the past year to partner with even those companies it competes with.

Some analysts agree with Krishna's sentiments, although they point out that many have already received the message about the importance of hybrid clouds and AI.

"Hybrid cloud is absolutely top of mind for every organization," said Scott Sinclair, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), a division of TechTarget. "It has become the de facto IT infrastructure. Most everyone we talk to is leveraging cloud-based infrastructure services."

Hybrid cloud is absolutely top of mind for every organization. It's become the de facto IT infrastructure. Most everyone we talk to is leveraging cloud-based infrastructure services.
Scott SinclairSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

Sinclair added that AI is as front of mind for users as hybrid clouds. Implementation of AI projects slowed during the pandemic, though he expects them to pick up momentum this year.

"A number of organizations planning AI investments last year put them on hold because of COVID-19 and they had to allocate those funds to things like buying laptops for employees to work from home," Sinclair said. "But as businesses return to normal, they are already ramping [AI] investments back up."

Another analyst appreciates some of the extensions the new offerings are making to IBM's existing AI and hybrid offerings, but he said there is more work to be done.

"IBM has been talking about AIOps for a while and these new extensions are fine, but there is a bigger problem that needs to be addressed," said Mike Leone, senior analyst at ESG. "There are data pipelines and a diverse mix of ever-changing data ecosystem services and solutions that still need to be delivered."

In his keynote remarks, Krishna said IBM's hybrid cloud strategy is all about meeting users where they are. IBM is focused on providing the appropriate tools to use capabilities of the cloud across a wide variety of environments, including the edge. He added that hybrid clouds remain the richest and best long-term opportunity for the company to pursue. Only 25% of workloads have moved to the cloud so far -- meaning hybrid clouds are positioned to define the technology strategies of business for decades to come.

"I believe we are entering an era in which computing can -- and must -- happen everywhere, from data centers to public clouds, to the very edges of the network," Krishna said. "And this is a world that's made possible by hybrid cloud."

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