IBM Pulse 2014 – IBM’s “Bold Moves”

By Jane Clabby, Clabby Analytics


As Clabby Analytics wrapped this year’s IBM’s Pulse conference (February 22-26)  in Las Vegas, we asked ourselves, “What was the theme of the event?”  We concluded that there were several themes and sub-plots.  The first was, of course, IBM’s “Bold Moves”, the launch of a massive business transformation to embrace the hybrid cloud and “IBM-as-a-Service”, including Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas), Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-service (SaaS).  Not only will IBM radically change the way they develop and deliver solutions, they will also change the way they market and sell these solutions.  Pulse was rebranded this year as “The Premier Cloud Conference” and that theme certainly gained traction – IBM reported that they had 11,000 attendees at this year’s conference, up over 50% (from 7,000) in 2013.

Another prevalent Pulse theme was the segmentation of users into three distinct classes with specific solutions for each (1) Developers (2) IT operations and (3) Business leaders.  For developers, the trend toward “composable business”, a new model enabled by dynamic cloud, will be addressed by (codename) “Blue Mix”, a composable services development environment currently in beta. For IT Operations, there is SoftLayer self-service IaaS. For business leaders, IBM has a portfolio of more than 100 SaaS applications for marketing, human resources and business and IT managers.

Last but not least, IBM reinforced its commitment to improving “Visibility, Automation and Control”, a message that we have been hearing for the last couple years.  These categories provide a context for IBM’s new announcements and enhancements and enable us to more easily judge its progress on these fronts, particularly in the area of service management.  One of the new Service Management solutions, IBM Service Engage Service Management as-a-Service, is a great example of this (more on this later).

In this article I will look at several new products that highlight these themes. But first, let’s talk about the role of open standards in today’s hybrid cloud environments.

Cloud and the Importance of Standards

For the second year, IBM hosted an Open Cloud Summit (a mini-conference before the main Pulse event) in order promote open cloud standards and IBM’s participation cloud-related standards organizations.  This year, I would classify open standards as more of a subplot, though not to minimize their importance. In fact, a year after Pulse 2013, I think there is widespread recognition that open standards are a requirement for the development of large scale hybrid clouds and cloud services and for the speed , cost and agility benefits that will drive cloud adoption.

Here are a few of the things I learned at the Open Cloud Summit and at IBM Pulse 2014:

  • OpenStack has a community of close to 15,000 people (larger than the Linux community!) in 150 countries worldwide, and has produced 1.7 million lines of code.
  • OpenStack, OpenFlow and OpenDaylight provide open standards for commoditization at the IaaS Layer
  • The Cloud Foundry Foundation has been formed to oversee the open source Cloud Foundry platform which enables rapid provisioning of scalable, portable PaaS that makes it easy and faster for developers to deploy, run and scale web applications. Members include IBM, EMC, Pivotal, HP and others.
  • SoftLayer will provide a translation layer on top of the SoftLayer API (codenamed Jumpgate) which will be compatible with OpenStack, so software written to OpenStack will also run on SoftLayer ,enabling services and applications to run across both on-premise (OpenStack) clouds and off-premise (SoftLayer) clouds
  • Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications (TOSCA) provides application patterns for speeding application development and improving portability
  • Open Services for Lifecycle collaboration (OSLC) is a standard for lifecycle integration that simplifies integration across heterogeneous tools. IBM uses OSLC to provide integration between its own management products (APM and Control Desk for example)
  • IBM acquired  Cloudant, a company with a NoSQL massively scaleable database-as-a-service offering built on IBM SoftLayer,  giving the company another important tool in its arsenal  to compete against Amazon who has a similar database service, AmazonDB (the acquisition was announced Monday February 23)

The BlueMix Introduction

Newly introduced BlueMix (currently in open beta) is IBM’s composable services, PaaS  development environment based on Cloud Foundry and other open standards. A catalog of services open APIs and SDKs allows developers to build new mobile and cloud applications using IBM and third-party scenarios.   BlueMix provides integration between systems of engagement and systems of record, recognizing that customers will need to link enterprise legacy systems and data to new applications “born on the cloud”.

Blue Mix integrates the DevOps experience into the platform and includes integrated task tracking, Agile project planning, integration testing, automated builds, as well as supporting  a continuous delivery model that will enable developers to compose and deliver applications more quickly. Applications can run in any language and developers can use their own tools or choose from the Web integrated development environment (IDE). A  BlueMix demonstration revealed how quickly and easily applications can be created, and a representative from Citigroup described their experience with BlueMix – they were able to develop a prototype of a mobile wallet application in fewer than three weeks.

IBM’s New “Service Engage” Approach

I really like both the idea and the execution on this new offering from IBM, and I spent much of my time at IBM Pulse 2014 learning more about it. Launched on February 11, IBM Service Engage is built on IBM’s global, Internet-scale SoftLayer cloud platform which spans 13 data centers in the U.S., Asia and Europe. It is an on-line portal/community for learning about, seeing, trying and buying IBM’s systems management solutions ,  either on-premise or as-a-service. IBM Service Engage provides a new digital engagement/delivery model for customers, a new way for IBM to sell to new or existing customers, and a new forum for users to give product feedback directly to development. IBM Service Engage is a great example of where IBM is headed.

Think back to the old days. Potential customers learned about new products via a PowerPoint presentation from the local sales team.  If the prospect was interested, they might get a visit from a systems engineer and a presentation to a larger audience to answer technical questions. That could lead to a hypothetical demo (not a real demo–too risky) at the Executive Briefing center at headquarters.   Weeks or even months could pass as the potential customer put together a business case, got budget approval and lined up the necessary resources to do a proof-of-concept. And if the customer did purchase the product, months were spent in the implementation phase– instrumenting applications (in the case of application performance tools), doing costly integration work and training IT staff.

In contrast, with IBM Service Engage, the customer can buy the product and have the service provisioned in an hour.  The website is easy-to-use and includes product information including videos, blogs and testimonials, product demonstrations, access to a free 30-day trial, and the ability to buy products as SaaS and on-premise via credit card (already available in 26 countries). An IBM user experience expert works interactively with users of the site during the beta phase and through “go-live” to ensure that the website design is intuitive and easy-to-use. The following products are currently available on IBM Service Engage and are grouped in 4 categories:

  • Performance Management – IBM Performance Management
  • Workload Automation – IBM Workload Automation
  • Internet of things– IBM Maximo Asset Management (beta)
  • IT Service Management – IBM SmartCloud Control Desk

Other service management vendors offer similar engagement models and solutions via SaaS, but IBM’s approach is differentiated based on its ability to provide a complete integrated product suite, as well as the ability to offer both and on-premise and off-premise solution that can be used seamlessly across  hybrid cloud infrastructure.

New products will continue to be added to IBM Service Engage (SaaS first) and existing products will be offered in SaaS versions in the future (even some z/OS management products). There is a special section on the website (called Extend) which is devoted to instructing existing IBM customers on how they can migrate to SaaS. IBM has looked at common integration scenarios between on-premise and SaaS, as well as between product offerings to help facilitate the customer’s transition.  Partners are another focus area for IBM Service Engage and they have the option to “overlabel” IBM systems management products to create and sell their own versions.

Summary Observations

Pulse lived up to its new billing at the industry’s “premier” cloud computing event.  In this article, I focused heavily on what is new and different about IBM’s cloud service offerings.   IBM’s strategy is to offer both on-premises and SaaS versions of their software solutions that will operate seamlessly across hybrid clouds. A broad integrated portfolio of secure, reliable, highly available solutions will differentiate IBM from other cloud and cloud services providers.  And although “Infrastructure Matters” (a key message at the conference) the idea that IBM is trying to promote is that both business users and developers shouldn’t have to worry about the underlying infrastructure. Infrastructure built on cloud standards will enable the speed, agility and scale that today’s applications and workloads require. I thought that Moe Abdula, IBM Vice-President, summed it up nicely, “Speed is the new (business) currency and cloud standards are in place to help us get there.”

But, in addition to the focus on cloud, three other topics were explored at Pulse 2014: 1) business analytics; 2) social; and 3) mobile.  These were presented in dedicated keynotes, in conference sessions, in training rooms; in customer presentations and on the Expo floor.  By including these topics as part of the Pulse event, customers who came to learn about cloud architecture were also able to explore other solutions (and did so in droves).

In the end, for me, the primary theme of Pulse 2014 was this: IBM has embarked on a new journey to the public/ hybrid cloud.  This new “IBM-as-a-service” paradigm shift necessitates changes in the way IBM engages with potential customers at every level.

Developers require solutions that will enable them to develop applications more quickly and easily. BlueMix is IBM’s answer to this.  Business users will demand new and easier ways to engage with IBM to incorporate social media, mobile applications and on-line communities, and IBM Service Engage is a great example of what the company can do to address this requirement.   IT Operations requires management solutions that are automated and proactive, and IBM has a wealth of management products across the portfolio to improve automation and incorporate operational analytics for faster problem identification and resolution. As a result, I believe that IBM is in a great position to leverage their past experience to push in this new direction that will enable them to achieve their future goals.




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