Friday, March 6, 2015

IBM’s Interconnect 2015 Cloud announcements – Shaking up the Cloud!

 By Rich Ptak and Bill Moran

IBM’s cloud product and services announcements[1] at Interconnect 2015 were numerous and diverse. They span a multitude of functions making in-depth coverage in a blog impossible. Therefore, we focus on those we consider the most news-worthy enhancements in five key categories.  The categories are: 1) SoftLayer (IBM’s competitive public cloud offering) enhancements, 2) BlueMix (IBM’s developer cloud) features, 3) Developer-focused features, 4) Security changes and 5) Management enhancements that focus on hybrid cloud.

SoftLayer enhancements are important because of escalating demands and competition in public cloud offerings. At acquisition, IBM announced plans to invest $1.2 billion to enhance SoftLayer. The results of that investment include the addition of new SoftLayer data centers worldwide, including (new) Montréal and Sydney within the next 30 days.  Chennai, India, Milan, and others will follow by the end of the year. Local data centers are important for many reasons (cost, accessibility, convenience, etc.). They also satisfy legislative mandates for government agencies and certain private companies to keep data locally. Also announced are two data centers designed to comply with strict US federal government requirements, i.e. FedRAMP and FISMA[2], increasing IBM’s attractiveness as a supplier.

In sum, the number of SoftLayer datacenters has grown by 100% since the IBM acquisition in 2013. SoftLayer has been enhanced to support speedy[3] deployment of bare metal servers. Such servers deliver the best performance for compute intensive workloads. Further enhancing the attraction, IBM SoftLayer implements Intel Trusted Execution (TXT) technology to provide security at the microprocessor level[4]. Neither AWS (nor any other provider) offers an integrated bare metal option, making this an industry first. It is even more desirable given recent reports of ‘invisible’ micro-code for spying hidden in microprocessors.

BlueMix is IBM’s cloud offering for developers. Brand new is BlueMix for the customer’s datacenter. BlueMix Local delivers a complete BlueMix environment running locally with a variety of support options. It also can support workloads that require high speed access to data which is only available on-premise. Customers can use a unified console to manage the combined resources of BlueMix Local and cloud BlueMix. Also new is the ability to scan applications still in development to detect potential security problems. IBM has added Watson functionality to BlueMix. The new Watson Zone includes Watson APIs, sample code, tutorial material and use cases. The idea here is to help developers create new hybrid apps that are enhanced with cognitive capabilities.

Developers have even more new capabilities. Among the most important is BlueMix support for enterprise Containers[5]. There have always been serious challenges moving applications between environments. Containers simplify such moves. They can provide a significant productivity boost when creating apps for multiple environments. Other enhancements include faster configuration and deployment of VMs, ability to build and manage a private image library, and much more. Also, there is API Harmony, easing developer efforts by recommending relevant APIs based upon smart search as it provides contextual relationship mapping from a large selection of public APIs. Finally, IBM delivers a complete open development platform with open software (Linux) and open hardware (Power Architecture).

IBM has significantly enhanced its Cloud Security portfolio since last quarter responding to the on-going battle between security capabilities and criminal elements interested in penetrating a company’s operations. IBM added an extensive range of new services to allow direct customer management of cloud services. These include cloud access control (people, apps and devices), increased operations visibility (to discover security breaches and compliance violations), data protection mechanisms to identify and block attacks by mobile and web apps, etc.

IBM is delivering new functionality that will give its clients comparable Management capabilities for a hybrid cloud that they have for a private cloud or for their in-house IT operations. IBM Cloud Orchestrator[6],[7] will allow management across hybrid environments.

One more item: don’t overlook a consistent feature of IBM’s cloud and infrastructure portfolios, i.e. its openness. Wherever possible, IBM uses open technologies in its enhancements. Open Compute Foundation, Cloud Foundry, OpenStack and node.js are among the most widely known. All feature prominently in the portfolio. It’s not just software; it also applies to infrastructure combining POWER8[8]  with the software stack you have the most open server platform available today. Further, since acquiring SoftLayer, IBM has been moving it to open technologies. Customers should applaud and support this direction. History teaches us that customers are better served and save more over time when they avoid single vendor lock-in. Open technologies facilitate that decision.

This has been a rapid overview of IBM’s cloud announcements and activities. More specific commentary and analysis is in the works. In the meantime, we highly recommend visiting IBM’s website for more information.

[1] See the following for IBM’s summary of the Cloud announcements at Interconnect 2015.   and
[2] FedRAMP and FISA are two federal programs that set federal wide standards for cybersecurity for Federal agencies. FedRAMP is a GSA program; FISA is administered by the OMB.
[3] IBM says accessible in minutes.
[4] See an IBM video on this topic on Intel’s website. This is also represents a security enhancement.
[5] Based on Open Docker technology.
[7] See our commentary on Orchestration:
[8] See the OpenPOWER Foundation for more information.