By Charles King
More than two decades on, the continuing evolution and growth of open technologies qualify as one of the industry’s largest and most surprising success stories. Remember that in the late 1990s, open source companies, products and standards directly challenged leading, seemingly indomitable vendors.
In fact, many of those companies considered open source to be explicitly, dangerously subversive. In fact, then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer likened Linux to Communism, though he softened his stance a decade and a half later.
However, other vendors recognized the potential and dynamic value that open technologies offered to what had long been largely proprietary platforms. Those efforts were not without controversy. For example, in 2000 IBM raised more than a few eyebrows by announcing that it would not just support Linux distributions but that the first platform to do so would be the company’s signature mainframe systems.
IBM’s open commitment didn’t begin and end with the mainframe. Over the past two decades, the company continued to focus significant energy and billions of investment dollars into a wide variety of open technology platforms and initiatives, including the Eclipse Foundation (originally a project developed in-house at IBM), Linus partnerships and Apache Foundation projects.
IBM’s recently launched AI OpenScale platform, its Multi-Cloud Manager and Security Connect services find the company breaking significant new ground while following a long familiar open technologies path. Let’s consider these new offerings and their implications for IBM and the broader market.
Heterogeneity and interoperability: A not-so-blessed union
What is it about open technologies that make them so attractive to IT vendors and their customers? Primarily, they reflect interoperability issues and associated trends that have long powered IT organizations, though it can be difficult to see those points unless you look behind the doors of organizations’ data centers.
If you do, you’ll find that heterogeneous IT—hardware and software from numerous, often disparate vendors—rules the day. Systems and platforms are chosen and deployed for various reasons; according to their specific strengths, the preferences of IT staff or simple cost-effective expedience. Whatever the use case, homogeneous, single-vendor solutions occupy a continuingly dwindling portion of the landscape.
That reality has been the case since the dot.com boom, but there are also downsides. Managing and maintaining heterogeneous IT assets can be painfully complex and costly, leading most vendors to add interoperability features and functions to data center solutions. In addition, demand for interoperable flexibility has accelerated since the emergence of cloud computing.
It’s not just that public clouds tend to employ and support open technologies themselves. The fact is that most of their customers treat cloud in the same way they do the hardware and software they own—utilizing whichever cloud best supports specific needs and use cases. Hence the increasing focus vendors are placing on management solutions and platforms for “multi-cloud” environments.
Interoperability is also a value proposition in other areas, notably artificial intelligence (AI) development and cybersecurity. Why so? Because both markets, and the IT infrastructures of business customers, tend to be crowded with numerous, highly-specialized solutions, though for different reasons.
In the case of AI, product development is in early stages with hundreds of players, from tiny start-ups to humongous vendors vying for a piece of the pie. In cybersecurity, diversity has long been a characteristic of the market and that situation will likely to continue. How diverse? According to IBM, an analysis of its clients’ IT environments found that enterprise cybersecurity teams, on average, employ over 80 different products from more than 40 different vendors.
That organizations both desire and need help with interoperability while maintaining their preference for open technologies is hardly a surprise.
IBM: Where open and interoperable meet
So what is IBM bringing to the table? Three new open platforms with enhanced interoperability features and capabilities:
- IBM AI OpenScale is an open platform for creating, managing and running AI projects while using the integrated development environments they choose. At launch, it supports machine learning and deep learning models developed and trained in any open source model, including Tensorflow, Scikit-learn, Keras, and SparkML. AI OpenScale also supports applications and models trained and hosted in integrated development environments, including IBM Watson, Seldon, AWS SageMaker and AzureML. AI OpenScale integrates and expands upon IBM’s recently announced Trust and Transparency capabilities which are designed to prevent bias in AI by ensuring that AI recommendations are fully explainable, traceable and auditable regardless of whether they run on customers’ private clouds, in an IBM cloud or in other vendors’ cloud environments. Finally, AI OpenScale also supports NeuNetS, a new automated neural network synthesis engine that automates and significantly reduces the time required for building/evolving neural networks for specific business tasks.
- IBM Multi-Cloud Manager is a platform for creating multi-cloud systems that, according to the company, provides enhanced visibility across different clouds and clusters, improved governance and security via an integrated compliance and rules engine, and lessened complexity and risk through automated decision-making features and processes. Multi-Cloud Manager runs on IBM’s Cloud Private, a Kubernetes-based container orchestration platform. It also features a new dashboard interface for managing thousands of Kubernetes applications and related data wherever they are located, including on-premises IT infrastructures and public cloud environments.
- IBM Security Connect is a security cloud platform designed to analyze federated security data across previously unconnected tools and environments.” The engines for analysis are machine learning and AI functions, including Watson for Cybersecurity services which can address specific business outcomes, such as SOC operations and digital trust. Security Connect offers an open framework with unique SDKs, APIs and microservices for developing new applications. The platform also integrates with and leverages data from existing security solutions and data repositories, so users can quickly connect with their data and automatically federate it for prioritizing and responding to threats. IBM strategic partners, including Cisco, Capgemini, Carbon Black, Check Point, CrowdStrike, EY, ForeScout, Forcepoint, Fortinet, McAfee, Qualys, Smarttech, Symantec, Tenable, Trend Micro and VMware have committed to integrating with IBM Security Connect to improve data sharing for joint clients. Security Connect will be the home for IBM’s Security App Exchange and IBM Security applications. Plus, the company will champion new open standards and open source projects in security areas.
Technological interoperability has long been a driver of modern business computing innovation. Though its origins are rooted in IT workforce behavior, interoperability has also substantially improved through the evolution of open technologies and open standards whose development is driven by the substantial commitments and investments of leading IT vendors, like IBM.
The company’s new AI OpenScale, Multi-Cloud Manager and Security Connect platforms and solutions demonstrate that open technologies are every bit as vital today as they were when IBM announced its initial support for Linux nearly two decades ago. Now, as then, IBM is moving ahead in a concerted manner that leverages its own strengths, as well as the aims and needs of its customers and strategic partners.
A willingness to openly collaborate while pursuing a greater good is what set open technologies apart from conventionally proprietary, single-vendor products. As IBM’s newest AI, multi-cloud and security solutions attest, open technology collaboration continues to fuel innovations that meet the evolving requirements of modern businesses.
Charles King is a principal analyst at PUND-IT. © 2018 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.