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.
On Monday, IBM opened a new SoftLayer datacenter in Hong Kong as part of a $1.2 billion investment to strengthen its cloud services in Asia and all over the world. The Hong datacenter represents the first of 15 datacenters that IBM plans to open worldwide this year, bringing its total fleet of centers to 40 by the end of the year. Separate from the Hong Kong datacenter, IBM currently has 13 SoftLayer data centers and 12 from IBM. The Hong Kong data center has capacity for over 15,000 servers and complements IBM’s presence in Asia by way of the Singapore datacenter and “network points of presence” in Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. Moreover, it positions SoftLayer to serve the entrepreneurial community’s cloud services needs in Hong Kong. IBM intends to deploy data centers in all major geographic regions and financial centers worldwide, including plans to extend its cloud services presence to Africa and the Middle East in 2015.
A recent IDC survey ranks IBM as the top IaaS cloud computing provider as measured by responses provided by over 400 companies and 1000 employees. IDC’s survey asked respondents which vendor is most capable of providing Infrastructure as a Service for public and private clouds. Survey results ranked Cisco second, HP third, AT&T fourth, Google fifth, Microsoft Azure sixth and Amazon Web Services seventh. Whereas IBM captured 35% of votes, Microsoft and Google claimed 16 percent and Amazon Web Services garnered 13%. According to IBM’s press release, factors used in IBM’s survey include cost, simplicity, provisioning speed and quality of service with respect to availability. Building on its July 2013 acquisition of the SoftLayer IaaS platform, Big Blue has launched a multitude of recent investments in its portfolio of cloud products and services including the IBM BlueMix Platform as a Service in February, the first BlueMix garage based in San Francisco’s Galvanize start-up community and the IBM Cloud Marketplace. While all available data suggests that IBM lags far behind Amazon Web Services in terms of IaaS cloud market share whether it be measured in revenue or installations, IDC’s recent survey underscores the positive perception had by IBM as a trusted provider of enterprise software and professional services. IDC’s report notes that “buyers selected IBM as their overall top preference among providers they believe can most effectively provision IaaS, whether private or public,”. Although the IDC report reinforces analyst concerns about the ability of vendors such as Amazon and Google to gain credibility amongst enterprise customers, its precise significance remains difficult to evaluate without more details regarding the 400 participants involved. What seems certain, however, is that IBM is progressively establishing its credibility with respect to cloud-based products and services and that its long history of collaboration with the open source community and developers, in conjunction with its infrastructure business, means that it will be a force to be reckoned with as the battle for cloud market share unfolds.