With BlueMix, IBM Refocuses Its Cloud Platform Strategy

G00262655

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Summary

IBM's new PaaS, BlueMix, based on an extensible open-source foundation, could have a positive impact on the entire market. But IBM must stay focused on cloud architecture, not the inertia of its established customer base.

News Analysis

Event

On 24 February 2014, IBM introduced BlueMix, a new public platform as a service (PaaS), in open beta. BlueMix is based on open-source Cloud Foundry and buildpacks technologies and runs on IBM SoftLayer. No private PaaS software version of BlueMix is available. IBM also introduced a rendition of its established PureApplication System software, hosted on SoftLayer.

Analysis

BlueMix is a new IBM PaaS architecture that, unlike its previous, modestly successful SmartCloud Application Services (SCAS), uses the more advanced shared-OS model of elasticity. The use of Cloud Foundry/buildpacks architecture may give BlueMix considerable extensibility and openness. Initially, BlueMix is offering services for Java, Node.js and Ruby frameworks. Many other potential "plug-ins" are available from open-source communities and third parties. A more modern and competitive offering than SCAS, BlueMix is likely to attract a greater following. Cloud Foundry's extensible architecture will allow IBM to offer a variety of its software products as BlueMix services, guiding IBM's customers to cloud computing on IBM's terms. However, to give IBM strategic momentum in cloud computing, BlueMix will need to go beyond IBM's installed base and attract a new breed of cloud-native application innovators.

IBM's strategic endorsement of Cloud Foundry architecture has the potential to make it the de facto standard for cloud-based PaaS offerings. IBM's strengthening position in the PaaS market will also pressure salesforce.com, Google, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and others to respond, likely leading to a new wave of PaaS innovation, but also market consolidation and volatility, during the next 12 to 18 months.

Despite these potential strengths, IBM will need to address multiple challenges to achieve success with BlueMix:

  • The lack of a private PaaS software version of BlueMix forces customers that wish to build cohesive hybrid PaaS environment with IBM to use its expensive and largely proprietary previous-generation PureApplication System. This approach is not in line with IBM's new vision for open and extensible cloud computing, and will confuse, more than serve, its customers.

  • BlueMix allows repackaging of existing software stacks for deployment as cloud services. Customers that wish to retain old skills and software will welcome this approach, but it may delay their transition to cloud-native application design and does not offer the added productivity many users expect from cloud services.

  • Most of IBM's large collection of cloud application services are hosted single-tenant deployments, and few use BlueMix technology. Migrating IBM applications and attracting application independent software vendors (ISVs) to BlueMix will be a critical imperative for IBM and a potential barrier to success.

  • Without a high-productivity option, BlueMix requires professional software engineering skills and is suitable only for relatively advanced cloud development projects. This leaves out the fast-growing small-and-midsize business and line-of-business (LOB) application development markets.

  • Users may expect greater protection from vendor lock-in in platforms like BlueMix that use Cloud Foundry, though without a compliance certification, its real portability will likely suffer.

Recommendations

IT architects and planners:

  • Consider IBM's promising new cloud strategy, but recognize that potential is not a guarantee of success.

  • Measure the success of BlueMix by its ability to attract partners (especially SaaS ISVs) and to broaden IBM's customer base.

  • Users looking for high-productivity cloud-native application platform suitable for LOB and other business-centric developers should look elsewhere.

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