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.
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.
You know that a market is about to transition from an early fantasy market when IT architects begin talking about traditional IT requirements. Why do I bring this up as an issue? I had a fascinating conversation yesterday with a leading architect in charge of the cloud strategy for an important company that is typically on the bleeding edge of technology. Naturally, I am not allowed to name the company or the person. But let me just say that individuals and companies like this are the first to grapple with issues such as the need for a registry for web services or the complexity of creating business services that are both reusable and include business best practices. They are the first companies to try out artificial intelligence to see if it could automate complex tasks that require complex reasoning.
These innovators tend to get blank stares from their cohorts in other traditional IT departments who are grappling with mundane issues such as keeping systems running efficiently. Leading edge companies have the luxury to push the bounds of what is possible to do. There is a tremendous amount to be learned from their experiments with technology. In fact, there is often more to be learned from their failures than from their successes because they are pushing the boundary about what is possible with current technology.
So, what did I take away from my conversation? From my colleague’s view, the cloud today is about “how many virtual machines you need, how big they are, and linking those VMs to storage. “ Not a very compelling picture but it is his perception of the reality of the cloud today. His view of the future requirements is quite intriguing.
I took away six key issues that this advanced planner would like to see in the evolution of cloud computing:
One. Automation of placement of assets is critical. Where you actually put capability is critical. For example, there are certain workloads that should never leave the physical data center because of regulatory requirements. If an organization were dealing with huge amounts of data it would not be efficient to place elements of that data on different cloud environments. What about performance issues? What if a task needs to be completed in 10 seconds or what if it needs to be completed in 5 milliseconds? There are many decisions that need to be made based on corporate requirements. Should this decision on placement of workloads be something that is done programmatically? The answer is no. There should be an automated process based on business rules that determines the actual placement of cloud services.
Two. Avoiding concentration of risk. How do you actually place core assets into a hypervisor? If, for example, you have a highly valuable set of services that are critical to decision makers you might want to ensure that they are run within different hypervisors based on automated management processes and rules.
Three. Quality of Service needs a control fabric. If you are a customer of hybrid cloud computing services you might need access to the code that tells you what tasks the tool is actually doing. What does that tool actually touch in the cloud environment? What do the error messages mean and what is the implication? Today many of the cloud services are black boxes; there is no way for the customer to really understand what is happening behind the scenes. If companies are deploying truly hybrid environments that support a mixed workload, this type of access to the workings of the various tools that is monitoring and managing quality of service will be critical. From a quality of service perspective, some applications will require dedicated bandwidth to meet requirements. Other applications will not need any special treatment.
Four. Cloud Service Providers building shared services need an architectural plan to control them as a unit of work. These services will be shared across departments as well as across customers. How do you connect these services? While it might seem simple at the 50,000-foot level, it is actually quite complex because we are talking about linking a set of services together to build a coherent platform. Therefore, as with building any system there is a requirement to model the “system of services”, then deploy that model, and finally to reconcile and tune the results.
Five. Standard APIs protect customers. Should APIs for all cloud services be published and accessible? If companies are to have the freedom to move easily and efficiently between and among cloud services then APIs need to be well understood. For example, a company may be using a vendor’s cloud service and discover a tool that addresses a specific problem. What if that vendor doesn’t support that tool? In essence, the customer is locked out from using this tool. This becomes a problem immediately for innovators. However, it is also an issue for traditional companies that begin to work with cloud computing services and over time realize that they need more service management and more oversight.
Six. Managing containers may be key to the service management of the cloud. A well-designed cloud service has to be service oriented. It needs to be placed in a container without dependencies since customers will use services in different ways. Therefore, each service needs to have a set of parameter driven configurators so that the rules of usage and management are clear. What version of what cloud service should be used under what circumstance? What if the service is designed to execute backup? Can that backup happen across the globe or should it be done in proximity to those data assets? These management issues will become the most important issues for cloud providers in the future.
The best thing about talking to people like this architect is that it begins to make you think about issues that aren’t part of today’s cloud discussions. These are difficult issues to solve. However, many of these issues have been addressed for decades in other iterations of technology architectures. Yes, the cloud is a different delivery and deployment model for computing but it will evolve as many other architectures do. The idea of putting quality of service, service management, configuration and policy rules at the forefront will help to transform cloud computing into a mature and effective platform.
I admit that I haven’t written a blog in more than three months — but I do have a good reason. I just finished writing my latest book — not a Dummies book this time. It will be my first business book based on almost three decades in the computer industry. Once I know the publication date I will tell you a lot more about it. But as I was finishing this book I was thinking about my last book, Cloud Computing for Dummies that was published almost two years ago. As this anniversary approaches I thought it was appropriate to take a look back at what has changed. I could probably go on for quite a while talking about how little information was available at that point and how few CIOs were willing to talk about or even consider cloud computing as a strategy. But that’s old news. I decided that it would be most interesting to focus on eight of the changes that I have seen in this fast-moving market over the past two years.
Change One: IT is now on board with cloud computing. Cloud Computing has moved from a reaction to sluggish IT departments to a business strategy involving both business and technology leaders. A few years ago, business leaders were reading about Amazon and Google in business magazines. They knew little about what was behind the hype. They focused on the fact that these early cloud pioneers seemed to be efficient at making cloud capability available on demand. No paperwork and no waiting for the procurement department to process an order. Two years ago IT leaders tried to pretend that cloud computing was passing fad that would disappear. Now I am finding that IT is treating cloud computing as a center piece of their future strategies — even if they are only testing the waters.
Change Two: enterprise computing vendors are all in with both private and public cloud offerings. Two years ago most traditional IT vendors did not pay too much attention to the cloud. Today, most hardware, software, and services vendors have jumped on the bandwagon. They all have cloud computing strategies. Most of these vendors are clearly focused on a private cloud strategy. However, many are beginning to offer specialized public cloud services with a focus on security and manageability. These vendors are melding all types of cloud services — public, private, and hybrid into interesting and sometimes compelling offerings.
Change Three: Service Orientation will make cloud computing successful. Service Orientation was hot two years ago. The huge hype behind cloud computing led many pundits to proclaim that Service Oriented Architectures was dead and gone. In fact, cloud vendors that are succeeding are those that are building true business services without dependencies that can migrate between public, private and hybrid clouds have a competitive advantage.
Change Four: System Vendors are banking on integration. Does a cloud really need hardware? The dialog only two years ago surrounded the contention that clouds meant no hardware would be necessary. What a difference a few years can make. The emphasis coming primarily from the major systems vendors is that hardware indeed matters. These vendors are integrating cloud infrastructure services with their hardware.
Change Five: Cloud Security takes center stage. Yes, cloud security was a huge topic two years ago but the dialog is beginning to change. There are three conversations that I am hearing. First, cloud security is a huge issue that is holding back widespread adoption. Second, there are well designed software and hardware offerings that can make cloud computing safe. Third, public clouds are just as secure as a an internal data center because these vendors have more security experts than any traditional data center. In addition, a large number of venture backed cloud security companies are entering the market with new and quite compelling value propositions.
Change Six: Cloud Service Level Management is a primary customer concern. Two years ago no one our team interviewed for Cloud Computing for Dummies connected service level management with cloud computing. Now that customers are seriously planning for wide spread adoption of cloud computing they are seriously examining their required level of service for cloud computing. IT managers are reading the service level agreements from public cloud vendors and Software as a Service vendors carefully. They are looking beyond the service level for a single service and beginning to think about the overall service level across their own data centers as well as the other cloud services they intend to use.
Change Seven: IT cares most about service automation. No, automation in the data center is not new; it has been an important consideration for years. However, what is new is that IT management is looking at the cloud not just to avoid the costs of purchasing hardware. They are automation of both routine functions as well as business processes as the primary benefit of cloud computing. In the long run, IT management intends to focus on automation and reduce hardware to interchanagable commodities.
Change Eight: Cloud computing moves to the front office. Two years ago IT and business leaders saw cloud computing as a way to improve back office efficiency. This is beginning to change. With the flexibility of cloud computing, management is now looking at the potential for to quickly innovate business processes that touch partners and customers.
I have been spending quite a bit of time these days at Cloud Computing events. Some of these events, like the Cloud Camps are wonderful opportunities for customers, vendors, consulted, and interested parties to exchange ideas in a very interactive format. If you haven’t been to one I strongly recommend them. Dave Nielsen who is one of the founders of the Cloud Camp concept has done a great job not just jump starting these events but participating in most of them around the world. In addition, Marcia Kaufman and I have been conducting a number of half and full day Introduction to Cloud Computing seminars in different cities. What has been the most interesting observation from my view is that customers are no longer sitting on the side lines with their arms crossed. Customers are ready and eager to jump into to this new computing paradigm. Often they are urged on by business leaders who instinctively see the value in turning computing into a scalable utility. So, for the first time, there is a clear sense that there may well be money to be made.
While a lot of the focus lately has been on software developers, it is interesting to look at the channel as a huge opportunity to bring the cloud into a broader set of business customers. I recently helped to run a couple of workshops with Sandy Carter, vice president of Software Group Channels for IBM. Channel partners and distributors will be an increasingly important part of the cloud ecosystem. These companies typically have the organization and ability to reach into specialized customer markets with solutions. These workshops are very interesting for a couple of reasons. First, many distributors and channel partners are looking for guidance and direction about what the cloud is and what it means for these business. Second, once these partners understand what resources are available to them they are in an excellent position to become a conduit for change. The two workshops that IBM aptly named “Cool Cloud Cash” brought cloud computing into sharp focus for these partners. These are savvy business leaders. Once they understand how they can leverage cloud computing software, hardware, and services they start to see dollar signs. In a sense, the channel is the most important avenue to bring cloud computing to the rest of the market — not just the early adopters. IBM has a renewed focus on channel partners and is focused particularly on expanding its cloud partner ecosystem. One important aspect is new certifications in cloud computing. Given the fact that this is an immature market, it is important that distributors and channel partners are able to demonstrate to their customers that they have deep knowledge. It is especially important that platform vendors like IBM work closely with partners since they are both selling and representing them in the market.