Of all the tech press cloud articles I read on a daily basis, almost always the comparisons are between AWS, Azure, and Google where the battle for IaaS, PaaS and SaaS market share is happening. There is the odd exception. But, as far as I am concerned, IBM are well in this race, and definitely in the top four of cloud providers. This is confirmed by the respected Gartner IaaS magic quadrant released around 2 weeks ago which places IBM 4th behind AWS, Microsoft, and Google. Even Google only made their debut this year with their recently released IaaS product.
I will be first to admit that IBM were a slow starter in the IaaS market. And I know this frustrated many within the company. SmartCloud Enterprise (SCE) made some progress, but it was a small player compared to the competition. It was really aimed at IBM’s existing enterprise customers, and was an attempt at providing an unmanaged cloud option to those customers who were already dipping their toes into AWS, and more recently Azure. The problem with SCE was that it was not designed as a solution for consumers or small/mid size businesses to use easily, with the lack of a fast and easy credit card signup option. When you only have the option for setting up infrastructure via an enterprise account manager plus purchase order, your market will be limited, and many would not call that ‘cloud’ in the first place.
The real strategy shift at IBM began with the acquisition of SoftLayer. This provides a scale of ability to execute and agility that is competitive with the other big providers. Prior to SoftLayer, IBM were not seen as a real player in cloud. Post SoftLayer it changed the game. SoftLayer were a proven cloud provider with many years of experience (they were established the year before AWS – around 2005). As an IBMer, I have seen the changes internally and externally over the last 12 months post acquisition. As the SoftLayer acquisition was closed in mid 2013, it was the catalyst of an internal push to educate the whole company about IBM’s clear strategy of CAMS (Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, and Social). All employees, no matter what their role, are given training on all these areas, with a special emphasis on the first friday of the month called ThinkFriday by IBM ThinkAcademy. This NYT article is a good read with an explanation of the strategy.
With the public beta of BlueMix, based on Cloud Foundry and built on SoftLayer, IBM started to take up the challenge to the competition. Subsequently launched was the IBM Cloud marketplace which ties all the IBM cloud offerings together. Whether it is PaaS offerings for Devs, IaaS offerings for infrastructure needs or pre configured SaaS offerings for business solutions. Having a clear one stop shop for business needs is essential and provides a good entry point for customers to see what IBM has to offer.
IBM has made very clear its strategy to the market and will leave no stone unturned to catch up to it’s competitors with $1.2 billion being spent in the expansion of SoftLayer data centres around the world including two in Australia opening up in the next couple of months, more strategic investments (anticipated) and partnerships (e.g.: the latest with the excellent Docker OS container based virtualisation product), and continual improvement and additions to the IBM Cloud marketplace. Out of the “big four” cloud providers, only IBM has the experience and a complete set of offerings that can cover the whole spectrum of customers, from startups and small business to high end enterprise customers with specific needs such as SAP or Oracle which they can run on SmartCloud Enterprise+ (SCE+) – the high end enterprise managed cloud offering.