IBM pursues new school and old guard with latest cloud wares

IBM pursues new school and old guard with latest cloud wares
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With new cloud services for WebSphere, Swift, and GitHub Enterprise, IBM courts enterprises of all stripes

A spate of enterprise cloud announcements from IBM should keep legacy customers satisfied as Big Blue attempts to deliver genuinely new, cutting-edge products for enterprise developers.

The sheer amount of legacy and last-generation infrastructure -- from VMware to WebSphere -- all but guarantees a captive market. But IBM also aims to pull in new customers with latest-and-greatest technologies.

The old guard

Two recent announcements that revolve around legacy enterprise work involve familiar names: VMware and WebSphere. IBM plans to allow VMware vSphere, NSX, and Virtual SAN users to automatically extend their workloads into IBM Cloud, and to have IBM and VMware "jointly market and sell new offerings for hybrid cloud deployments," according to an IBM spokesperson.

In addition to leveraging the presence of VMware products in IBM's user base, it's also a poke at cloud kingpin Amazon, where the lack of a genuine enterprise hybrid strategy remains a major deficiency.

In the same vein, IBM is extending its venerable WebSphere enterprise product by way of IBM Cloud Connectors, a portfolio of products intended to deliver cloud services to WebSphere and vice versa. IBM hopes to give existing WebSphere apps a new lease on life by plugging them into new-breed cloud services -- for example, IBM's work with the blockchain, by way of WebSphere Blockchain Connect. IBM will deliver future WebSphere functionality by the same route.

In both cases, IBM is banking on the sheer number of existing deployments to pay off. VMware's presence in the enterprise is hard to ignore, and a great many legacy WebSphere installations are still puttering away behind the scenes. Hitching WebSphere to the growing volume of cloud-based IBM services helps protect it from irrelevance -- after all, when was the last time anyone mentioned WebSphere in anything but a near-historical context?

The new school

IBM is tending to its legacy customers, but the company is also paying attention to the latest generation of tooling for enterprise developers -- like GitHub, which has been under pressure to broaden the market for the enterprise edition of its code-hosting system. One logical way to do so is to deliver it on an already well-trafficked enterprise cloud; thus, IBM and GitHub have entered into a "first of a kind" partnership to deliver GitHub Enterprise as an IBM Bluemix-hosted service.

In a similar fashion, IBM's cloud-hosted application development environment will be available for Apple's recently open-sourced Swift language. As part of its ongoing partnership with Apple to create apps for enterprises and vertical industries, IBM says Swift allows unified back-end and front-end development -- which echoes the approach with JavaScript, right down to a Package Catalog reminiscent of NPM, although Swift has a ways to go before it reaches the same level of usage.

In a third move, IBM is attempting to create the same kind of "serverless application server" technology that Amazon did with AWS Lambda and Google with Google Cloud Functions. IBM's new OpenWhisk event-driven platform runs on Bluemix and has one advantage those other two platforms don't: Code needn't be JavaScript or Swift (the two languages supported by OpenWhisk), as long as it's provided in a Docker container. IBM plans to release OpenWhisk's code as an open source project "to generate a powerful ecosystem of event providers and consumers."

IBM's public cloud has been pushed as a front end for next-generation services like Watson, but most of its appeal has come from products that are familiar to enterprise developers -- Spark, Docker, and so on. That isn't to say Watson and its associated services are a waste of time, but little has been built with them that has had the same transformative effect as other (open source, largely non-proprietary) technologies.

IBM is wise to offer developers familiar, practical, and useful new tools as it goes head-to-head with the existing kings of cloud.

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