Microsoft and IBM have decided to cross-license some of their most widely used enterprise software for use in each others' cloud. But in the end, Microsoft will wring the most from this collaboration, thanks to Azure's ability to turn any cloud offering into a hybrid cloud offering.
As described in a joint IBM-Microsoft press release earlier today, IBM's specific products to be deployed in Azure include the WebSphere Liberty, MQ, and DB2 products, with Microsoft preparing Windows Server, SQL Server, and eventually the .Net runtime for use in IBM Cloud and the Bluemix PaaS.
The deal is designed to accommodate existing users of the software, not just newcomers. IBM users who already have their own software licenses for the WebSphere products can bring those licenses to Azure, and it's implied that Microsoft customers with Windows Server/SQL Server licenses can do the same for Bluemix.
Microsoft has been brokering partnerships left and right as of late with companies that would normally be considered rivals, to make Azure into an environment rich with software and services. It buddied up with Oracle to introduce the database giant's products to Azure via a bring-your-own-license strategy reminiscent of the one allowed here for WebSphere. Likewise, SAP struck a deal with Microsoft to make its Business Suite products Azure-available and to integrate Business Objects with Microsoft's BI software.
With Bluemix, IBM's been trying to consolidate its services and software offerings into a single portal, each available as separate services that can be linked instead of as monolithic offerings. Bringing together .Net and Microsoft line-of-business apps under one umbrella makes sense, given the number of other runtimes and applications already found there.
In the short term, everyone wins with deals like this: Microsoft, for making Azure more useful to paying business customers; customers, who now have another deployment methodology for the software they rely on; and the software vendors, who can attract and retain a whole new class of customer.
But with most any Azure third-party deal, Microsoft stands to reap the biggest benefits in the long run. Microsoft is providing an end-to-end substrate that can be extended into customers' local data centers by way of Windows Server and made into a hybrid offering -- doubly so now that Microsoft is building hardware appliances with Dell.
That said, IBM's hybrid integration services for Bluemix can be further leveraged through OpenStack, although it seems focused on wiring up individual applications rather than creating a complete fabric from the OS on up.
It's hard to ignore Microsoft's motives in this deal, in which it can give IBM customers more than one way to sample what Microsoft has to offer.