Is BlueMix a good mix for IBM, and you?

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IBM announced that it’s is moving much of its software portfolio and all of its existing platform services to the Softlayer cloud.  Called BlueMix, and pushed at the IBM Pulse conference last week in Las Vegas, this bundle of technology will leverage IBM’s global network of 40 data centers.  Keep in mind that IBM announced it would invest $1.2 billion into building its cloud infrastructure, as well as make some strategic acquisitions.  The company seems to be keeping that promise.

The bottom line is that IBM is launching a marketplace that will allow IT staffers to find IBM applications and services that are deployable, on-demand, out of IBM’s new Softlayer cloud.  The marketplace will have over 2,000 products, including applications available as a service through application programming interfaces (APIs), as well as IBM services already in operation.

These services will leverage the open-source Cloud Foundry framework, currently managed by Pivotal.  It will also offer a developer environment that uses the open source Git repository, and has a Web IDE (integrated development environment), along with Eclipse and Visual Studio plug-ins.

BlueMix provides capabilities that IBM hopes will attract the attention of people who are moving in droves to AWS, many of whom are existing IBM customers, and encourage them to stop and take a hard look at IBM.  This will continue to be a long trod for IBM, but it’s not a bad move.  The larger issue is that, as IBM promotes cloud, much of the impact will be on IBM hardware and software sales as the company’s own customer base moves to the cloud.

IBM’s purchase of hosted Apache CouchDB company, Cloudant, was also announced last week.  This adds a ready portfolio of NoSQL services to Big Blue’s cloud business, but it’s unclear as to what IBM will do with this company.

“The acquisition is potentially smart for IBM, although also a bit confusing when it comes to IBM’s overall cloud strategy. IBM has been working to make MongoDB a standard for next-generation web and mobile applications, but Cloudant’s technology is based on the alternative NoSQL framework, CouchDB.”  This, according to Gigaom’s own Derrick Harris

Clearly, IBM is a company in the middle of a huge transition.  Just last week IBM announced that it would be cutting as much as 25 percent of hardware-related jobs in the Systems and Technology division that builds servers.  However, the cloud side of the IBM Empire is looking for people, perhaps to support the emerging BlueMix offerings.

This is a trend that we’ll see play out many times over the next few years, as the traditional hardware providers find that there is a diminishing demand for traditional hardware and software.  This is both around the rise of cloud computing, but also due to the fact that international hardware manufacturers have been putting pressure on the US-based hardware providers.

The messages from IBM are very clear.  We’re all in on cloud, and we’re will to invest big bucks, buy companies, and fire people to make IBM more streamlined.  Were I sitting in the executive suites at IBM, I would be doing exactly the same thing.

However, there are a few things that IBM could be doing better.

First, the “BlueMix” is a confusing mix.  It’s difficult to figure out what, exactly, IBM is offering in the cloud, and the company has not provided a consistent strategy for potential IBM cloud users.  In November, IBM informed its customers that it will be phasing out its SmartCloud Enterprise cloud computing platform and now offers free migration of workloads to SoftLayer’s cloud.  The company seems to be making many moves that fly in the face of the existing strategy, including last week’s Cloudant buy.  The list goes on.

Second, what’s a cloud and what’s not?  Core to the BlueMix strategy is to push many of the existing offerings into the cloud.  Cloud computing provides more than just services over the open Internet; it’s about creating efficient and well-performing multitenant cloud services.  I suspect that much of what IBM will push into the cloud, that’s not purpose-built for the cloud, may not be true cloud offerings.  Thus, it could be a bit frustrating for early users.

Finally, there’s AWS envy.  Much of IBM’s strategy is clearly directed at catching up and bypassing AWS.  I understand IBM’s concern about AWS walking off with huge chunks of IBM’s customer base.  However, IBM would better serve its customers and the marketplace if it became more innovative around the use of cloud-based technology, rather than continue the ongoing attempts to achieve equilibrium with AWS.

IBM has a huge challenge to face, more so than the other larger enterprise technology players.  The company must fundamentally changes its business, and perhaps its culture.  At the same time IBM grows its cloud business, the company diminishes its traditional business.  Finding the right path through these challenges will be something IBM has to do right the first time.  Otherwise, in 5 years, it will be a very different, and smaller, IBM.

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David S. Linthicum

SVP Cloud Technology Partners

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