LAS VEGAS—IBM is going native—cloud native that is—and is telling its customers that cloud native is in their future too.
Such a statement might cause some old school IBM customers to break into a cold sweat, which is why IBM isn’t pushing “cloud native” on them just yet—certainly not as hard as they are pushing Watson and cognitive computing. Cloud native is work in progress, for both parties.
Here at the IBM InterConnect conference, at a keynote session on the future of the cloud, Bryson Koehler, CTO of IBM Watson and IBM Cloud, and John Considine, IBM general manager for cloud infrastructure, outlined what the company has in store as it upgrades its existing data center infrastructure to handle the demands of cognitive computing and enterprise workloads.
To be clear, when Koehler told attendees, “cloud native is your future,” he didn’t necessarily mean it in the terms of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF)—of which IBM is a member and whose governing board chairman is Todd Moore, IBM vice president of Open Technology.
To be cloud native the CNCF charter says that applications have to be containerized, dynamically managed and microservices oriented.
But also, Koehler contends, “cloud native fundamentally is a philosophical approach, which is I’m going to run my applications and manage my business in the cloud, to leverage horizontal scalability that is provided to me by infrastructure as a service,” he said in a separate interview with eWEEK.
“There’s cloud native software architecture and engineering, where you are really building that application properly to run in the cloud. That’s obviously a good thing. But not everybody is going to rebuild all of their applications tomorrow to actually be cloud apps,” Koehler said.
Looks Like Cloud Native
It seems IBM is hedging its bets here, because what IBM is doing behind the scenes with infrastructure and platform services sounds very much like cloud native. For one, IBM this week announced the Bluemix Container Service with native Kubernetes orchestration support, which brings the IBM Cloud on par with Google, Amazon Web Service and other cloud service providers for container management.
Bluemix is the platform as a service (PaaS) that IBM has integrated into its cloud data centers. In addition, Koehler says IBM is working on using containers to package up IBM AIX-based applications to migrate them to cloud data centers.
In terms of microservices, IBM has released in beta the Microservice Builder, a set of tools that can help developers create microservices in Bluemix. Also available is a Migration Toolkit that can take inventory of existing monolithic application code to see if it can be deconstructed or converted, in whole or in part, into microservices.
The dynamically managed part of IBM’s cloud native strategy is another matter. IBM’s erstwhile SoftLayer data centers, acquired in 2013, have been used mostly for managed hosting in IBM’s Global Technology Services group, with little support for must-have cloud features like elasticity and fast provisioning of servers.
That is all changing as IBM is in the midst of overhauling its data centers—which now number 51, more than 30 of which are designated as Bluemix Cloud data centers—to bring them into the cloud native age. That includes rolling out consistent infrastructure configuration throughout with Intel processors (and Power CPUs as well), flash storage and photonics-based mesh networking.
This isn’t exactly a lift and shift, said Considine, in an interview with eWEEK. “This is an evolution of our infrastructure. This isn’t a one replaces the other. It’s actually to grow and expand what we are doing. In the long term though, the new technology will become the vast majority of what we are doing.”
IBM is planning announcements this year to address its data center strategy and expansion plans, Koehler said.
Rethinking the Cloud
The data center build-out is part of a two-fold strategy. The first part is to bring IBM in line with Google, AWS, Microsoft and Oracle. The second part is to make it easier for customers to incorporate Watson-based cognitive applications into their businesses.
Speaking to customers at his keynote, Koehler said, “This is the time to really think through where do you want to be 3 to 5 years from now, and how you can take advantage of cognitive abilities, and position your business for what lies ahead.”
What’s eye-opening about IBM’s plans are the fact that they are being led by outsiders who have not come up through the ranks of Big Blue. David Kenny, senior vice president of the IBM Watson and Cloud Platform efforts, was former CEO of the Weather Company, which IBM bought about a year ago.
Koehler, the CTO under Kenny at the Weather Company, came along as well. Considine formerly was CTO of cloud at Verizon before joining IBM in 2015.
“[Kenny] hired me to make the Weather ‘Channel’ into the Weather Company and turn it into a big data technology business, and change the business model from being a media TV company to being a big data technology company,” said Koehler, whose Storage Utility Network has become part of the Watson Data Platform.
Is the Weather Company acquisition of IBM now complete?
“Clearly, IBM is a massive global company that operates in many sectors with a lot of complexity around the world,” Koehler said. “Having subject matter expertise is awesome. But in many ways, as with anything in life, having a fresh perspective adds value. So a good solid mix of old and new is always a good thing.”
Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.