How Many More Incarnations Does IBM Have?

Ashwin Krishnan, SVP Product Management and Strategy, HyTrust
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The tech industry is an unforgiving one. One week you might be a darling and the next week you might be in the dust. Well, maybe not from one week to another, but you get the drift—innovate or die. One company that has been around for over one hundred years and has repeatedly and successfully been able to reinvent itself over and over again while constantly bringing to market groundbreaking technology such as—Magnetic Tape Drives, Mainframes, PCs, DRAMs, Relational Databases, Data Encryption Standard (DES), RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer), Token Ring, Servers, Services, ThinkPads– yes its IBM.

And now in its latest ‘reinvention’—earlier in the year—IBM announced a groundbreaking partnership with VMWare. Now what is so special about this partnership? Partnerships are a dime-a-dozen between tech companies (some of which are real head scratchers) a majority of them really don’t go anywhere and only a minority actually deliver value to both parties. So if you look at partnership in its purest sense—a true value addition to two (or more) parties due to a highly complementary relationship that delivers heightened capabilities to the end customer—this one does pass the small test. How so?

  â€‹With its years of deep customer intimacy and strong understanding of the customer, it can tailor the environment to truly suit the end customers’ needs  

Let’s look at VMWare. They are the defacto software infrastructure vendor for the virtualized private data center. The invented ‘software virtualization’ and now have a much broader portfolio that is referred to as SDDC or Software Defined Data Center. The ability to use software to drive cost savings and agility across compute, storage and network is really the idea. And they are killing it. Or to be more precise, they have been killing it so far. But there are headwinds they are facing. How so? With the rise of AWS and Azure as well as host of other public cloud alternatives, the VMWare customer suddenly has a bevy of choices in front of them all promising significant cost savings over the license costs that VMWare charges. And the rise of OpenStack as a ‘cheaper’ offering with similar features is also not lost upon data center IT folks. So VMWare needs to find a way to harness the years of expertise IT departments have sunk in to learn their technology and use that as leverage and simultaneously offering them a more cost-effective way of running VMWare infrastructure, maybe outside their traditional data center while providing the same or even higher degree of security and reliability. Is that even possible?

And then there’s IBM. After successfully jettisoning its PC business to Lenovo, and looking for the next growth curve beyond its services business, IBM invested in a strong cloud hosting provider—SoftLayer—in 2013. It was a very different cloud company—one that provided bare metal as a service. Simply put it as if your servers were physically ‘lifted and shifted’ from your data center to the cloud. And for companies that wanted access to hardware as if they owned it, this was ideal. Over the years Softlayer (now IBM) did add virtual servers, networking, services etc. for a more complete offering, but it still had a mountain to climb! You guessed it—AWS and Azure had a huge lead and getting stronger so IBM needed a more compelling way to appeal to the customer and make its offering more compelling than those two. And provide a unique value proposition that was undeniable.

So there you have it—the compelling events that two technology giants face and the reason that this partnership makes so much sense. But let’s take a look at this from a customer’s perspective.

If you are a VMWare customer and have invested years of training and expertise in VMWare technology, moving to AWS or Azure means rewriting your applications or using an alternate technology like a cloud Hypervisor, which you need to learn as well. There is no easy ‘lift and shift’ that allows you to take all your existing applications, VMWare infrastructure as-is and start using the cloud instantly. But it gets even more critical as your business starts to expand in the cloud. One of the great promises of the cloud is the ability to introduce CI/CD (continuous integration / continuous delivery) model that allows rapid delivery of new features. But you can only take advantage of this if you are able to take the time and effort to understand what is being (continually) introduced and how it may or may not be applicable to you. And this is where IBM shines. With its years of deep customer intimacy and strong understanding of the customer, it can tailor the environment to truly suit the end customers’ needs and provide additional service and support which is in its DNA.

To sum it up, the VMWare and IBM partnership, being a strongly mutually beneficial arrangement, both parties will likely invest time and effort to make this successful. And most importantly, from a customer’s perspective this provides good investment protection, a stair step approach for the journey to the cloud without rewriting everything and the assurance of one of the most renowned technology brands in the history of the world—IBM—backing it up. What’s not to like?

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