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IBM's cloud dreams soar on the wings of AI, open source

Hoping to play catch-up with its web services archrivals, IBM has rolled out a raft of products and services fueled by AI and open source.

LAS VEGAS -- IBM continues its advance into the web services era with new cloud-based products and services for corporate users that want to transport data across multiple clouds and on-premises environments.

Many of the products and services introduced at the InterConnect conference here demonstrate not only IBM's cloud commitment but also artificial intelligence (AI) and open source. The company also demonstrated how it would push the hottest new technologies, such as blockchain, to the heart of its longer-term strategy.

A key example here is a blockchain service built on the Linux Foundation's Hyperledger Fabric 1.0, which can be deployed as a service for corporate developers to build production blockchain networks on IBM's cloud.

Another example is the IBM Cloud for Financial Services, which offers corporate developers tools such as IBM Watson Platform for Financial Services, various AI features from Watson and a variety of open source offerings to create financial services applications that combine technologies such as cloud, blockchain and analytics.

"Anything IBM can do to ease users' transition over to the cloud-based world, I would think, is job number one at this point," said Charles King, president of Pund-IT. "Some of the Bluemix and the new financial services offerings reflect that urgency."

IBM's accelerated technology push seeks more lucrative areas beyond traditional IT markets, such as the estimated $2 trillion decision support market. "They hope to do this on the strength of blockchain working in concert with their cognitive platform [Watson]," said Geoff Woollacott, senior strategy consultant and principal analyst at Technology Business Research.

However, with so many new cloud, open source and cognitive offerings shaping IBM's longer-term strategy, corporate IT shops need more time and education on these technologies and how they might fit into their own long-term plans, said one IT professional in the banking sector whose company is currently evaluating IBM's blockchain technology.

"The open-source ingredients in the mix here most people can handle, we do that every day," said a vice president of engineering. "But blockchain and the artificial intelligence [combined with] open source will take a while for people to catch up to."

Anything IBM can do to ease users' transition over to the cloud-based world [is] job number one ... Some of the Bluemix and the new financial services offerings reflect that urgency.
Charles Kingpresident, Pund-IT

IBM, who first showed an interest in supporting open source back in 2001 by backing the Eclipse Foundation, continued its advocacy of the technology as many of offerings announced are fueled by it. The wider influence of open source through products such as blockchain and others is hoped to drive development capabilities down further in organizations to improve application development productivity.

"The place for citizen developers is emerging," said Angel Diaz, vice president of cloud technology and architecture at IBM. "My dream as a computer scientist is that mere mortals, like my sister who is a lawyer, can build applications without knowing they are doing so."

IBM also continued its heavy drum beat for Watson-related AI technologies. A new cognitive assistant to be delivered via the IBM Cloud aims to aid IT pros that manage networks of mobile device and IoT devices.

Another new offering is a container service on Bluemix designed to increase the speed with which corporate developers create applications with better built-in security. The service will work with Kubernetes to automatically manage the infrastructure that runs and secures an application with containers.

The IBM move offers more evidence that platform as a service (PaaS) has become containers as a service, with similar announcements from a handful of top-tier PaaS vendors, including Red Hat, Pivotal and Apprenda.

"Containers address the areas where PaaS has challenges in addressing sprawl of languages and frameworks and databases, and needs to run on different infrastructures," said Jay Lyman, an analyst at 451 Research. "That's what the idea was behind Docker -- it doesn't matter what language it uses, you can put it in a container and manage it the same way no matter what's under the hood."

IBM has offered support for Kubernetes on Bluemix for some time, so this release is a formality -- the big challenge is to establish the IBM brand on new technology, Lyman said.

"This is a highly competitive and emerging market and there's a whole generation of new technologists that are not as beholden to Big Blue as previous generations," he said.

While IBM has yet to establish many of the new-age technologies in larger corporations, some analysts are encouraged by what they've heard about the company's longer-term strategies.

"[IBM] really see[s] [technologies] like Watson and blockchain as the kind of things that can drive the company forward in the next couple of decades, in the same way the mainframe has driven it forward," Pund-IT's King said.

Ed Scannell is a senior executive editor with TechTarget. Contact him at [email protected].

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