Head on the heels of Microsoft Azure’s announcement of its achievement of Provisional Authority Level 5 accreditation for the Department of Defense, IBM detailed its finalization of a five year contract with the U.S. army that has the potential to amount to $62M. Under the terms of the contract, IBM will create a private cloud solution for the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal, which is located close to Huntsville, Alabama. IBM will deliver Infrastructure as a Service solutions for the Redstone Arsenal facility as part of the Army Private Cloud Enterprise program. The army plans to migrate up to 35 applications to the U.S. army during the first year of the private cloud. IBM’s ability to win this contract with the army was predicated on securing the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Impact Level 5 (IL-5) Provisional Authorization. IBM is the first company to obtain Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Impact Level 5 (IL-5) Provisional Authorization and plans are in place for it to achieve Level 6 authorization, which would enable it to manage classified information in contrast to the ability to manage controlled unclassified information as a result of its Level 5 certification. IBM’s contract with the U.S. army to develop and manage a private cloud for its Redstone Arsenal builds upon its success delivering a hybrid cloud solution for the U.S. Army’s Logistics Support Activity. The deal consolidates IBM’s leadership as a cloud contractor for the U.S. military and suggestively illustrates further potentialities for the expansion of IBM’s cloud market share via cloud-related U.S. military use cases.
Editorial note: This article was authored by Scott Jeschonek, Director of Cloud Solutions, Avere Systems. The opinions expressed below are those of the author, Scott Jeschonek.
Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once wrote that battles are won or lost before they are ever fought, but can the same be said for the cloud wars? Though many industry thought leaders have made projections, the future of how the battle between public cloud providers will unfold remains hazy. Despite projections that global IT spending will fall in 2016, investment in public cloud services is expected to grow 16% this year, fueling the fire of the on-going war. Most industry experts would agree that AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and IBM Cloud Services are the key players to watch, however many CIOs still struggle with determining which cloud service provider is right for them.
The table stakes for becoming the top public cloud provider are only getting higher with each passing quarter, and at the same time, the rise of a multi-cloud strategy is shaking things up. So, how will the cloud wars play out and how can enterprises that want to embrace the cloud choose the right CSP (or combination of CSPs) for their organizations?
When the technical features of the four hottest CSPs put them on relatively even playing field, it is the brand personalities and customer experience that can help organizations evaluate which cloud provider is most suitable for their needs. Below is a breakdown of how each CSP’s culture and decades-long experience with their respective specialties has influenced their approach to building and selling cloud offerings.
Launched officially in 2006, AWS is the oldest among the major CSPs and draws strongly from its foundations as an online marketplace to provide ease-of-use and a seamless on-demand experience. In the cloud wars landscape, AWS is like the U.S. military of the public cloud – bigger than all the others combined. AWS is very streamlined in how it offers its products, how they can be purchased and how fulfillment is handled. AWS’s ability to provide a user-friendly e-commerce experience isn’t a surprise, because, after all, AWS is Amazon. Just like you can buy a book or a suitcase from Amazon.com, you can buy compute time or storage. AWS also boasts sophisticated large-scale data base products, APIs and control structures, including AWS Lambda, which lets customers run code without provisioning or managing servers. Given Amazon’s core value of customer service, the rapid growth of AWS and its ease of use make sense.
Google Cloud Platform
While Google’s cloud offering is newer on the scene, its recent enterprise investment makes it one to watch. The company’s history of being forward-thinking and cutting edge is carried throughout its cloud platform value prop. At its NEXT conference in March, Google focused its keynotes on the sophistication of its technology, and how savvy developers could take advantage of Google Cloud Platform’s dynamic point-to-point networking, artificial intelligence and machine learning offerings. Google arguably has the most sophisticated developer cloud on the market, which makes sense as one of the large-scale inventors of web scale, or scale-out computing.
IBM, which combined its July 2013 acquisition of SoftLayer Technologies with its IBM SmartCloud to form the IBM Cloud Services Division, is building on its historical strength as a provider of consulting and computer services. Professional services and consulting is not necessarily top of mind for AWS or GCP, so IBM’s global cloud platform appeals to those customers looking for a stronger engagement model. Professional services is part and parcel to IBM, and it can combine its cloud offerings and consulting capabilities with other technologies such as Watson.
Rounding out the four, Microsoft’s Azure has a strong and steady history in the CSP market. Though it offers many of the same features as the other three “big guns,” it has stood out by intelligently leveraging its long-standing strength in the enterprise and bridging its existing enterprise capabilities with its newer cloud offerings. Customers can run other Microsoft software offerings such as Exchange, SQL Server or Active Directory both in the cloud or on premises. Microsoft also offers licensing incentives for existing enterprises customers as an option to help them embrace Azure.
If your organization is, for example, a next-generation application outfit and has been in the cloud from the get-go, then AWS or GCP will suit you just fine. If you’re generating an Internet-of-Things-based application with a mobile front end, for instance, that will run on Android and iOS and you’re storing a lot of data, any one of the four will handle the job admirably.
But here’s where it gets a little tricky: if you’re an enterprise customer with your own (or leased) data center(s) and Microsoft applications and backoffice applications processing lots of data (a bank, for example), it’s a much bigger proposition to move to the public cloud. This type of customer is currently a challenge for all four of the major CSPs. For organizations with a more traditional IT infrastructure, it’s not a matter of simply copying and pasting their applications and technology into the cloud and calling it a day.
A Demilitarized Zone: The Rise of the Multi-cloud Strategy
Partly in response to these complexities, we’ve seen the rise of hybrid cloud and multi-cloud architectures and approaches. Multicloud, in particular, has been an unexpected twist in enterprise cloud adoption. CSPs catalyzed enterprise cloud adoption by driving prices lower and enhancing the sophistication of their offerings, yet now this very same competitive dynamic is allowing businesses to choose different clouds for different workloads based on the strength of each CSP.
There’s also the age-old concern about having a single supplier and being subject to vendor lock-in. By adopting a multi-cloud approach, enterprises can avoid the “data gravity” problem: as data accumulates there is a greater likelihood that more and more additional services and applications will be attracted to this data. By keeping data in different clouds, enterprises can avoid arduous and difficult data migration while taking advantage of differing pricing structures among the CSPs.
In the end, yes, we’re going to see an intensification of the cloud wars among the four big public cloud providers – Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft – and that’s a good thing for enterprises moving to the cloud. This competition is at once driving down prices, increasing buyer options and inspiring innovations in IT architecture that will ultimately lead to more freedom of choice and the ability to purpose-build cloud environments for enterprises who are looking to the cloud(s).
On May 4, IBM announced the build of a quantum processor that marks one of the foundational components of the quantum computing platform branded the IBM Quantum Experience. Available through the IBM Cloud, IBM’s quantum processor contains five supercomputing qubits that represent IBM’s progress toward building a universal quantum computer. Whereas classical computers use binary bits that occupy a state of 1 or 0, qubits can range from 1, 0, or both 1 and 0 (10 and 01) in a state known as superposition. The ability of qubits to occupy states other than 1 and 0 enable quantum computers to perform calculations with speeds that are unattainable to classical computers. IBM’s five qubit processor represents a step toward building a universal quantum computer that can perform calculations at speeds that enable it to embrace use cases involving the sciences and artificial intelligence that are currently inaccessible to classical computing. The availability of the IBM Quantum Experience differentiates the IBM Cloud from competitors such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure and marks yet another moment in which cloud computing has radically democratized access to advanced analytics and computing technologies. Anyone with an interest in quantum computing can access the IBM Quantum Experience at www.ibm.com/quantumcomputing.
IBM has announced plans Salesforce implementation consulting firm Bluewolf. The acquisition of Bluewolf allows IBM to tap into Bluewolf’s leadership in the Salesforce implementation space as a means of expanding its cloud consulting practice, specifically as it relates to Salesforce.com. Bluewolf will join IBM’s Interactive Experience practice within IBM Global Business Services. New York-based Bluewolf was founded in 2000 and has delivered services related to Salesforce since 2002, as reported in The Wall Street Journal. IBM’s acquisition of one of the industry’s leading Salesforce.com consulting partners illustrates the multi-valence of IBM’s strategy with respect to growing its cloud business. By augmenting its reputation for delivering consulting services to enterprise and government customers of Salesforce through the acquisition of Bluewolf, IBM stands to strengthen its position as a leader in cloud consulting professional services more generally. The acquisition is expected to be finalized in the second quarter of 2016. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed but re/code reports that the purchase price was roughly $200M.
On June 15, IBM announced significant backing for Apache Spark, the open source framework for Hadoop-based analytics. Apache Spark facilitates the development of Hadoop-based applications that specialize in interactive analytics, real-time analytics, machine learning and stream processing. IBM intends to integrate Spark into its analytics and commerce platforms as well as the IBM Watson Health Cloud and its IBM System ML machine learning technology. Moreover, Big Blue plans to offer Spark as a Service as part of its IBM BlueMix Platform as a Service, and commit 3500 developers to work on Spark-related projects. IBM also announced plans to open a Spark Technology Center in San Francisco to facilitate the development of innovative, data-centric, intelligent applications. IBM’s support of Apache Spark represents a huge coup for Spark and startups that rely heavily on its analytics framework to build analytics applications. That said, IBM’s backing of Spark also bolsters the industry of analytics frameworks built for Hadoop more generally such as the recently open sourced DataTorrent platform that offers a production-grade alternative to Apache Spark and Apache Storm. IBM’s support for Apache Spark comes in tandem with the announcement of the general availability of the Databricks cloud platform for Apache Spark that simplifies the application of Spark to Big Data use cases. Revealed roughly a year ago, the Databricks platform supports the automation of job processes and pipelines that leverage Spark as well as the use of the popular programming language R on Spark clusters. While IBM BlueMix’s Spark offering may well compete directly with the DataBricks cloud, the larger momentum for the open source Apache Spark project has swung hugely in Apache Spark’s direction and promises to continue doing so, assuming IBM can capitalize on its early investment in Spark integration into its array of platforms and use cases. IBM’s support of Spark also serves to differentiate its cloud platform from Amazon Web Services and Microsoft as the race for differentiation in the IaaS space intensifies.
IBM recently announced the opening of its first SoftLayer datacenter in Tokyo, Japan. The Tokyo-based SoftLayer datacenter complements existing IBM SoftLayer data centers in the Asia Pacific region that include locations in Singapore, Melbourne and Hong Kong. As such, the Tokyo-based site delivers increased redundancy, improved performance and lower latency for customers in the Asia-Pacific region. IBM’s CEO of SoftLayer, Lance Crosby, remarked on the launch of the SoftLayer datacenter in Tokyo as follows:
Since we established a Singapore cloud data center in September 2011, SoftLayer has seen tremendous growth in the Asia-Pacific market. Our new cloud data center in Tokyo will support this evolving market by offering locally the security, resiliency, and efficiency that customers are demanding around the world.
As noted in a press release, the Tokyo-based datacenter has the capacity to house thousands of physical servers. Meanwhile, IBM’s SoftLayer IaaS platform now boasts more than 1000 customers in Japan featuring an increase in customers by over 600% between Q3 2013 and Q3 2014. IBM’s enhanced presence in the Asia-Pacific region illustrates the growing importance of East Asia and the Pacific Rim to the global market share of IaaS products and services. Microsoft Azure, for example, operates Regions in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore while Amazon Web Services Regions include Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and China. The launch of IBM’s SoftLayer datacenter in Tokyo marks a pivotal moment in SoftLayer’s global expansion as it challenges the dominance of VMware, AWS and Azure in Asia-Pacific-based IaaS services. Moreover, as IBM’s integration of OpenStack with SoftLayer deepens, SoftLayer’s expansion in the Asia-Pacific testifies to the global penetration of commercial, enterprise-grade OpenStack technologies to geographies that include some of the world’s most renowned personal computing, automative and telecommunication companies in the vein of Sony, Samsung, Toyota, Hyundai and NTT Docomo.
IBM has won a contract with China’s Shanghai Airport Authority to use cloud computing to help the airport manage day to day operations such as airplane taxi times and passengers moving through airport concourses. The agreement represents the second phase of a collaboration between IBM and the Shanghai Airport Authority that finished in March that reportedly reduced delays related to air travel. The collaboration between IBM and the Shanghai Airport Authority aspires to track data about incoming air traffic for Hongqiao International airport as well as automobile traffic in and around the airport such as taxis. IBM’s finalization of a deal with China’s state-owned Shanghai Airport Authority comes amidst rising tensions between the U.S. and China related to U.S. charges against five Chinese military personnel related to cyberespionage. The U.S. charges of Chinese cyberespionage come amidst increased tension between the U.S. and China subsequent to Edward Snowden’s revelation that the NSA was spying on China. Financial details of the contract were not disclosed.