When Bob Dylan famously crooned that the times they are a-changing he was unlikely to be thinking about the technology marketplace. But his lyrics are apt as I sit and reflect on some news that IBM just announced. The company, after spending $2B on cloud infrastructure vendor Softlayer last year is doubling down on that investment and committing $1.2B to a build out of 40 data centers in five continents. IBM will have a cloud infrastructure offering in the US, UK, Australia, Japan, India, Canada, Mexico and, importantly, China. Bear in mind that last month it was Amazon Web Services making headlines with a data center in China – it seems the not insignificant hassle of doing business in China is more than offset by the monstrous market opportunity there.
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It seems like yesterday that I was sitting in conferences hearing IBM spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about cloud. Those days have well and truly gone and IBM is certainly putting its money where its mouth is. Only last week the company announced a $1B investment in Watson, to deliver the Jeopardy-winning solution into specific market opportunities. While there were comments in the twitterverse about the lack of real revenue for the Watson program to date, what we’re seeing is a huge investment in what is likely to be a significant part of Big Blue’s future.
IBM’s aim seems to be to offer the broadest global service offering for the most discerning enterprise customers, it has stated a goal of having cloud in every major market and key financial center. They’re also one-upping AWS‘s approach to global roll outs. Whereas AWS tends to introduce a select range of its services in a new geography first before extending the portfolio of services available, IBM is promising that all of its datacenters will offers all the different services IBM offers.
In terms of technical details, IBM datacenters are designed to consist of a minimum of four PODS (points of distribution), stand-alone units consisting of 4,000 servers. Each POD is not reliant on any other POD for service and carries guaranteed uptime of 99.9 percent. Clients can choose to locate in a single POD at 99.9 percent or can be distributed across multiple PODs to increase their uptime ratio. IBM is, once again, taking the battle directly to AWS. Their briefing materials give a use-case example of how AWS is less reliable than the new IBM offering:
For example, a retail CIO that receives an unanticipated spike in traffic can spread the company’s workload among multiple PODS and data centers guaranteeing uptime and staying in business. To avoid scenarios such as suffered by Amazon.com which went down in January 2013, costing the online retailer an estimated $5 million in sales.
Interestingly IBM is confirming rumors that Softlayer will be the default platform for all the cloud infrastructure it offers going forwards – all of these data centers will be based on Softlayer, the final admission perhaps that IBM’s SmartCloud wasn’t so… smart. In fact IBM is saying that they will fully double the Softlayer capacity that is available to customers. They’re also leveraging the Softlayer network already in place. Again from the company:
IBM SoftLayer is able to deliver high performance services to locales across the globe quickly. These local cloud hubs will give clients unique access to data quickly without having to wait for servers several countries away to respond to clicks. SoftLayer’s high performance private network also makes it possible to build global applications that do not require or use the public internet to connect to servers that sit in multiple countries which helps avoid any disruptions caused by other traffic on a public network.
Somewhat confusingly, in response to questions about SmartCloud, IBM responded that:
SmartCloud Enterprise + which combines managed services for highly complex projects will maintain its technology and branding.
Hmmm. I wonder. Anyway, there’s no doubt that IBM are deadly serious about this cloud opportunity. While AWS is certainly in front of the pack when it comes to public cloud, there’s a whole world of enterprise customers looking for something a little different. Quite rightly these enterprises are where IBM is focusing.