Despite all of the hand wringing surrounding Amazon.com’s service outages last week, it is clear to me that cloud computing is dramatically changing the delivery models of computing forever. We simply will not return to a model where organizations assume that they will consume primarily their own data center resources. The traditional data center certainly isn’t going away but its role and its underlying technology will change forever. One of the ramifications of this transition is the role of cloud infrastructure leaders in determining the direction of the partnership models.
Traditionally, System vendors have relied on partners to expand the coverage of their platforms. With the cloud, the requirement to have a strong partner ecosystem will not change. If anything, partners will be even more important in the cloud than they have been in traditional computing delivery models. This is because with cloud computing, the barriers to leveraging different cloud-based software offerings – platform as a service and Software as a Service are very low. Any employee with a credit card can try out just about anything. I think that the Amazon.com issues will be seen in the future as a tipping point for cloud computing. It, in fact, will not be the end to cloud but it will change the way companies view the way they select cloud partners. Service management, scalability, and reliability will become the selection standard – not just for the end customer but for partners as well.
So, I was thinking about the cloud partnership model and how it is evolving. I expect that the major systems vendors will be in a perfect position to begin to reassert their power in the era of the cloud. So, I decided to take a look at how IBM is approaching its partnership model in light of cloud computing. Over the past several months, IBM has been revealing a new partnership model for the cloud computing market. It has been difficult for most platform vendors to get noticed above the noise of cloud pioneers like Amazon and Google. But this is starting to change. It is not hard to figure out why. IBM believes that cloud is a $181 billion business opportunity and it would like to grab a chunk of that opportunity.
Having followed IBM’s partnering initiatives for several decades I was not surprised to see a revamped cloud partnering program emerge this year. The new program is interesting for several different reasons. First, it is focused on bringing together all of IBM’s cloud offerings across software, developer relations, hardware, and services into a single program. This is important because it can be intimidating for an ISV, a Value Added Reseller, or a systems integrator to navigate the complexity of IBM’s offerings without some assistance. In addition, IBM has to contend with a new breed of partners that are focused on public, private, and hybrid cloud offerings.
The new program is called the Cloud Specialty program and targeted to cover the entire cloud ecosystem including cloud builders (hardware and software resellers and systems integrators), Service Solution Providers (software and service resellers), Infrastructure Providers (telecom providers, hosting companies, Managed Service Providers, and distributors), Application Providers (ISVs and systems integrators), and Technology Providers (tools providers, and appliance vendors).
The focus of the cloud specialty program is not different than other partnering programs at IBM. It is focused on issues such as expanding the skills of partners, building revenue for both IBM and partners, and providing go to market programs to support its partners. IBM is the first to admit that the complexity of the company and its offerings can be intimidating for partners. Therefore, one of the objectives of the cloud specialty program is to clarify the requirements and benefits for partners. IBM is creating a tiered program based on the different types of cloud partners. The level of partner investment and benefits differ based on the value of the type of partner and the expectation of those partners. But there are some common offerings for all partners. All get early access to IBM’s cloud roadmap, use of the Partnerworld Cloud Specialty Mark, confidential updates on IBM’s cloud strategy and roadmap, internal use of LotusLive, networking opportunities. In addition, all these partners are entitled to up to $25,000 in business development funds. There are some differences. They include:
- Cloud builders gain access to business leads, and access to IBM’s lab resources. In exchange these partners are expected to have IBM Cloud Reference architecture skills as well as cloud solutions provider and technical certification. They must also demonstrate ability to generate revenue. Revenue amounts vary based on the mix of hardware, software, and services that they resell. They must also have two verified cloud references for the previous calendar year.
- Service Solution Providers are provided with a named relationship manager and access to networking opportunities. In exchange, partners are expected to use IBM cloud products or services, demonstrate knowledge and skills in use of IBM cloud offerings, and the ability to generate $300,000 in revenue from the partnership.
- Infrastructure Providers are given access to named IBM alliance manager, and access to business development workshops. In exchange, these partners are expected to use IBM’s cloud infrastructure products or services, demonstrate skills in IBM technology. Like service solution providers they must use and skills in IBM cloud offerings, have at least $300,000 a year in client references based on two cloud client references
- Application Providers are given access to a named IBM alliance manager, and access to business development workshops. They are expected to use IBM cloud products or services, have skills in these technologies or services, and a minimum of $100,000 a year in revenue plus two cloud client references.
- Technology Providers get access to networking opportunites, and IBM’s cloud and services assessment tools. In exchange, these partners are required to demonstrate knowledge of IBM Cloud Reference architecture, have skills related to IBM’s cloud services. Like application providers, these partners must have at least $100,000 in IBM revenue and two client references.
What does IBM want? IBM’s goals with the cloud specialty program is to make it as attractive as possible for prospective partners to chose its platform. It is hoping that by offering financial and technical incentives that it can make inroads with cloud focused companies. For example, it is openings its labs and providing assistance to help partners define their offerings. IBM is also taking the unusual step of allowing partners to white label its products. On the business development side, IBM is teaming with business partners on calls with prospective customers. IBM anticipates that the impact on these partners could be significant – potentially generating as much as 30% gross margin growth.
Will the effort work? It is indeed an ambitious program. IBM will have to do a good job in explaining its huge portfolio of offerings to the prospective partners. For example, it has a range of services including CastIron for cloud integration, analytics services, collaboration services (based on LotusLive), middleware services, and Tivoli service management offerings. In addition, IBM is encouraging partners to leverage its extensive security services offerings. It is also trying to encourage partners to leverage its hardware systems. One example of how IBM is trying to be more attractive to cloud-based companies like Software as a Service vendors to to price offerings attractively. Therefore, it is offering a subscription-based model for partners so that they can pay based on usage – the common model for most cloud platform vendors.
IBM is on the right track with this cloud focused partner initiative. It is a sweeping program that is focused on provides a broad set of benefits for partners. It is pricing its services so that ISVs can rent a service (including IBM’s test and development cloud) by the month — an important issue in this emerging market. It is also expecting partners to make a major investment in learning IBM’s software, hardware, and services offerings. It is also expecting partners to expand their knowledge of the markets they focus on.
I was having a discussion with a skeptical CIO the other day. His issue was that a private cloud isn’t real. Why? In contrast to the public cloud, which has unlimited capability on demand, a private cloud is limited by the size and capacity of the internal data center. While I understand this point I disagree and here is why. I don’t know of any data center that doesn’t have enough servers or capacity. In fact, if you talk to most IT managers they will quickly admit that they don’t lack physical resources. This is why there has been so much focus on server virtualization. With server virtualization, these organizations actually get rid of servers and make their IT organization more efficient.
Even when data centers are able to improve their efficiency, they still do not lack resources. What data centers lack is the organizational structure to enable provisioning of those resources in a proactive and efficient way. The converse is also true: data centers lack the ability to reclaim resources once they have been provisioned.
So, I maintain that the problem with the data center is not a lack of resources but rather the management and the automation of those resources. Imagine an organization leverages the existing physical resources in a data center by adding self-service provisioning and business process rules for allocating resources based on business need. This would mean that when developers start working on a project they are allocated the amount of resources they need – not what they want. More importantly, when the project is over, those resources are returned to the pool.
This, of course, does not work for every application and every workload in the data center. There are applications that are highly specialized and are not going to benefit from automation. However, there indeed can increasingly large aspects of computing that can be transformed in the private cloud environment based on truly tuning workloads and resources to make the private cloud as elastic as what we think of as a ever expanding public cloud.
To comprehend HP’s cloud computing strategy you have to first understand HP’s Matrix Blade System. HP announced the Matrix system in April of 2009 as a prepackaged fabric-based system. Because Matrix was designed as a packaged environment, it has become the lynch pin of HP’s cloud strategy.
So, what is Matrix? Within this environment, HP has pre-integrated servers, networking, storage, and software (primarily orchestration to customize workflow). In essence, Matrix is a Unified Computing System so that it supports both physical blades as well as virtual configurations. It includes a graphical command center console to manage resource pools, physical and virtual servers and network connectivity. On the software side, Matrix provides an abstraction layer that supports workload provisioning and workflow based policy management that can determine where workloads will run. The environment supports the VMware hypervisor, open source KVM, and Microsoft’s Hyper-V.
HP’s strategy is to combine this Matrix system, which it has positioned as its private cloud, with a public compute cloud. In addition, HP is incorporating its lifecycle management software and its security acquisitions as part of its overall cloud strategy. It is leveraging the HP services (formerly EDS) to offer a hosted private cloud and traditional outsourcing as part of an overall plan. HP is hoping to leveraging its services expertise in running large enterprise packaged software
There are three components to the HP cloud strategy:
- Cloud Services Automation
- Cloud Consulting Services
CloudSystem. What HP calls CloudSystem is, in fact, based on the Matrix blade system. The Matrix Blade System uses a common rack enclosure to support all the blades produced by HP. The Matrix is a packaging of is what HP calls an operating environment that includes provisioning software, virtualization, a self-service portal and management tools to manage resources pools. HP considers its public cloud services to be part of the CloudSystem. To provide a hybrid cloud computing environment, HP will offer compute public cloud services similar to what is available from Amazon EC2. When combined with the outsourcing services from HP Services, HP contends that it provides a common architectural framework across public, private, virtualized servers, and outsourcing. It includes what HP is calling cloud maps. Cloud maps are configuration templates based on HP’s acquisition of Stratavia, a database and application automation software company.
Cloud Service Automation. The CloudSystem is intended to make use of Services Automation software called Cloud Service Automation (CSA). The components of CSA include a self-service portal that manages a service catalog. The service catalog describes each service that is intended to be used as part of the cloud environment. Within the catalog, the required service level is defined. In addition, the CSA can meter the use of services and can provide visibility to the performance of each service. A second capability is a cloud controller, based on the orchestration technology from HP’s Opsware acquisition. A third component, the resource manager provide provisioning and monitoring services. The objective of CSA is to provide end-to-end lifecycle management of the CloudSystem.
Cloud Consulting Services. HP is taking advantage of EDS’s experience in managing computing infrastructure as the foundation for its cloud consulting services offerings. HP also leverages its consulting services that were traditionally part of HP as well as services from EDS. Therefore, HP has deep experience in designing and running Cloud seminars and strategy engagements for customers.
From HP’s perspective, it is taking a hybrid approach to cloud computing. What does HP mean by Hybrid? Basically, HP’s hybrid strategy includes the combination of the CloudSystem – a hardware-based private cloud, its own public compute services, and traditional outsourcing.
The Bottom Line. Making the transition to becoming a major cloud computing vendor is complicated. The market is young and still in transition. HP has many interesting building blocks that have the potential to make it an important player. Leveraging the Matrix Blade System is a pragmatic move since it is already an integrated and highly abstracted platform. However, it will have to provide more services that increase the ability of its customers to use the CloudSystem to create an elastic and flexible computing platform. The Cloud Automation Services is a good start but still requires more evolution. For example, it needs to add more capabilities into its service catalog. Leveraging its Systinet registry/repository as part of its service catalog would be advisable. I also think that HP needs to package its security offerings to be cloud specific. This includes both in the governance and compliance area as well as Identity Management.
Just how much will HP plan to compete in the public cloud space is uncertain. Can HP be effective in both markets? Does it need to combine its offerings or create two different business models?
It is clear that HP wants to make cloud computing the cornerstone of its “Instant-On Enterprise” strategy announced last year. In essence, Instant-on Enterprise is intended to make it easier for customers to consume data center capabilities including infrastructure, applications, and services. This is a good vision in keeping with what customers need. And plainly cloud computing is an essential ingredient in achieving this ambitious strategy.
So in a perfect world all data centers be magically become clouds and the world is a better place. All kidding aside..I am tired of all of the hype. Let me put it this way. All data centers cannot and will not become private clouds– at least not for most typical companies. Let me tell you why I say this. There are some key principles of the cloud that I think are worth recounting:
1. A cloud is designed to optimize and manage workloads for efficiency. Therefore repeatable and consistent workloads are most appropriate for the cloud.
2. A cloud is intended to implement automation and virtualization so that users can add and subtract services and capacity based on demand.
3. A cloud environment needs to be economically viable.
Why aren’t traditional data centers private clouds? What if a data center adds some self-service and virtualization? Is that enough? Probably not. A typical data center is a complex environment. It is not uncommon for a single data center to support five or six different operating systems, five or six different languages, four or five different hardware platforms and perhaps 20 or 30 applications of all sizes and shapes plus an unending number of tools to support the management and maintenance of that environment. In Cloud Computing for Dummies, written by the team at Hurwitz & Associates there is a considerable amount written about this issue. Given an environment like this it is almost impossible to achieve workload optimization. In addition, there are often line of business applications that are complicated, used by a few dozen employees, and are necessary to run the business. There is simply no economic rational for such applications to be moved to a cloud — public or private. The only alternative for such an application would be to outsource the application all together.
So what does belong in the private cloud? Application and business services that are consistent workloads that are designed for be used on demand by developers, employees, or partners. Many companies are becoming IT providers to their own employees, partners, customers and suppliers. These services are predictable and designed as well-defined components that can be optimized for elasticity. They can be used in different situations — for a single business situation to support a single customer or in a scenario that requires the business to support a huge partner network. Typically, these services can be designed to be used by a single operating system (typically Linux) that has been optimized to support these workloads. Many of the capabilities and tasks within this environment has been automated.
Could there be situations where an entire data center could be a private cloud? Sure, if an organization can plan well enough to limit the elements supported within the data center. I think this will happen with specialized companies that have the luxury of not supporting legacy. But for most organizations, reality is a lot messier.
Every year I attend IBM software analyst meeting. It is an opportunity to gain a snap shot of what the leadership team is thinking and saying. Since I have had the opportunity to attend many of these events over the year, it is always instructive to watch the evolution of IBM’s software business over the years.
So, what did I take away from this year’s conference? In many ways, it was not that much difference in what I experienced last year. And I think that is good. When you are a company of the size of IBM you can’t lurch from one strategy to the next and expect to survive. One of the advantages that IBM has in the market is that has a well developed roadmap that it is in the process of executing on. It is not easy to execute when you have as many software components as IBM does in its software portfolio.
While it isn’t possible to discuss all that I learned in my various discussions with IBM executives, I’d like to focus on IBM’s solutions strategy and its impact on the software portfolio. From my perspective, IBM has made impressive strides in enforcing a common set of services that underlie its software portfolio. It has been a complicated process that has taken decades and is still a work in progress. The result required that all of the business units within software are increasingly working together to provide underlying services to each other. For example, Tivoli provides management services to Rational and Information Management provides data management services to Tivoli. WebSphere provides middleware and service orientation to all of the various business units. Because of this approach, IBM is better able to move to a solutions focus.
It’s about the solutions.
In the late 1990s IBM got out of the applications business in order to focus on middleware, data management, and systems management. This proved to be a successful strategy for the next decade. IBM made a huge amount of money selling WebSphere, DB2, and Tivoli offerings for SAP and Oracle platforms. In addition, Global Services created a profitable business implementing these packaged applications for enterprises. But the world has begun to change. SAP and Oracle have both encroached on IBM’s software business. Some have criticized IBM for not being in the packaged software business. While IBM is not going into the packaged software business, it is investing a vast amount of money, development effort, and marketing into the “solutions” business.
How is the solutions business different than a packaged application? In some ways they are actually quite similar. Both provide a mechanism for codifying best practices into software and both are intended to save customers time when they need to solve a business problem. IBM took itself out of the packaged software business just as the market was taking off. Companies like SAP, Oracle, Seibel, PeopleSoft and hundreds of others were flooding the market with tightly integrated packages. In this period of the early 1990s, IBM decided that it would be more lucrative to partner with these companies that lacked independent middleware and enabling technologies. IBM decided that it would be better off enabling these packaged software companies than competing in the packaged software market.
This turned out to be the right decision for IBM at the time. The packaged software it had developed in the 80s was actually holding it back. Therefore, without the burden of trying to fix broken software, it was able to focus all of its energy and financial strength on its core enabling software business. But as companies like Oracle and SAP cornered the packaged software market and began to expand to enabling software, IBM began to evolve its strategy. IBM’s strategy is a hybrid of the traditional packaged software business and a solutions business based on best practices industry frameworks.
So, there are two components in IBM’s solutions strategy – vertical packaged solutions that can be applied across industries and solution frameworks that are focused on specific vertical markets.
Horizontal Packages. The horizontal solutions that IBM is offerings have been primarily based on acquisitions it has made over the past few years. While at first glance they look like any other packaged software, there is a method to what IBM has purchased. Without exception, these acquisitions are focused on providing packaged capabilities that are not specific to any market but are intended to be used in any vertical market. In essence, the packaged solutions that IBM has purchased resemble middleware more than end-to-end solutions. For example, Sterling Commerce, which IBM purchased in August 2010, is a cross channel commerce platform. It purchased Coremetrics in June, provides web analytics and bought Unica for marketing automation of core business processes. While each of these is indeed packaged, they reach represent a component of a solution that can be applied across industries.
Vertical Packages. IBM has been working on its vertical market packaging for more than a decade through its Business Services Group (BSG). IBM has taken its best practices from various industry practices and codified these patterns into software components. These components have been unified into solution frameworks for industries such as retail, banking, and insurance. While this has been an active approach with the Global Services for many years, there has been a major restructuring in IBM’s software organization this past year. In January, the software group split into two groups: one focused on middleware and another focused on software solutions. All of the newly acquired horizontal packages provide the underpinning for the vertical framework-based software solutions.
Leading with the solution. IBM software has changed dramatically over the past several decades. The solutions focus does not stop with the changes within the software business units itself; it extends to hardware as well. Increasingly, customers want to be able to buy their solutions as a package without having to buy the piece parts. IBM’s solution focus that encompasses solutions, middleware, appliances, and hardware is the strategy that IBM will take into the coming decade.