We had the chance to participate at IBM’s Impact conference this week in Las Vegas. Impact is the show formerly centered on WebSphere, but the product centricity of IBM events seems to be a thing of the past. Rightfully all events need to address the attendees’ desire to learn more about cloud, mobile, BigData and social. That said, social was a little bit absent this week, but well compensated by more mobile than I expected. And of course, it's no IBM event without Watson. 
I blogged already on my Top 3 takeaways from the Day 1 Keynote here - and will build on that. 

MobileFirst (Pun intended)

And while Mobile loomed already at Day 1 - it was even more prominent on Day 2- where most of the keynote was dedicated to mobile. IBM has expanded on the Worklight product (acquired a little more than two years ago) and is making it easier for customers to build mobile applications on premises. Given that BlueMix also has mobile development capabilities, IBM now needs to educate customers on where to build which kind of mobile application. The good news is, that the app as the outcome are more or less the same - but the way how to build these mobile apps - conventionally on premises or on a PaaS (BlueMix) - makes for a very different development, deployment and operations scenario. It will be very interesting to see which paths IBM customer will have chosen in a year from now.

IBM Youtube Video on IBM and Nuance Partnering

And as a testament of the new and fast moving IBM, the recent Cloudant acquisition that happened during Pulse - is a key asset that IBM makes available for mobile development. And to help customers to come up to speed even faster, IBM is providing a number of pre-packaged applications, called Ready Apps. As with all pre-packaged efforts - they need to stand their value in practice, but the demos we have seen were promising. The vertical flavor IBM has put into them certainly helps them to be more ready for consumption - or at least a significant reduction of implementation costs. To a certain point Ready Apps are a sign of the IBM to come - which is definitively less about hardware, and probably less about services and more about software. Prepackage offerings like Ready Apps certainly move the needle towards software.

Screenshot a Ready App - Retail for role of Store Associate

To foster adoption and education, IBM will open 18 IBM MobileFirst studios around the globe - a standard play book move. The question certainly is, how many innovation center like locations does an IBM customer need to visit to come up to speed - but mobile certainly has enough gravitas to deserve its own centers (right next to the BlueMix Garage - which will show mobile development in a PaaS).

Doing good things with IBM technology

IBM keeps following its direction of looking for early adopters in the healthcare space (see the recent hospital references). At Impact it was a partnership between Corriel Life Sciences and CareKinesis, that will use IBM technology (Softlayer, WebSphere, Cloudant were mentioned) to help seniors with counter indications of prescribed pharmaceuticals. Certainly an area where improvement is needed and it’s good to see technology benefitting mankind. Will be interesting to see, where the project will be in a few quarters from now.

More services in the BlueMix Garage

On the BlueMix side IBM announced 30 additional new cloud services - quite remarkable if you keep in mind that BlueMix was just announced in February. And of course it is easier to do this in the cloud age, and yes it is CloudFoundry, which has an active ecosystem, so IBM does not need to do all the work. Pitney Bowes picking BlueMix was an interesting, but logical choice. To get more traction IBM will have to show similar partnership at a rate of half a dozen a quarter. Let’s not forget that IBM not only has to make the platform work and get developers to build on it - IBM also needs to attract service providers to expose and provide their services to the BlueMix platform. A chicken and egg problem - as you cannot get the one without the other - so it will be interesting to see, how IBM will expand BlueMix services and uptakes.

Of course customers need to learn more about BlueMix and IBM announced to open up (surprise surprise) BlueMix garages - grungy enough to attract developers at least in name - in practice we will have to see. Good choice with the first location being in San Francisco - if IBM can attract developer beyond the honeymoon and trial phase there - then it will work in other locations, too. Partnering with the Galvanize co-learning space (or Incubator?) is certainly a smart move. Maybe location will become a competitive battle ground for PaaS vendors? We will see and look forward to visit.

IBM Youtube Video on launching BlueMix Garages with galvanize

Connections vs Pulse vs Impact

Having attended all three major IBM conference in the last 4 months - I was most impressed by Impact. No celebrities, bands or dancers in the keynotes - only Kevin Spacey at the very end of the Day 3 keynote. And no external moderator with more or less lucky attempts to entertain the audience. It was impressive to see a customer (CEO of Tangerine) open the conference - a first at least for me and for the rest it was all customers, partners and IBM execs working the keynotes. And plenty of live demos. It was also a welcome change and a first (ok for yours truly) to have women anchor the whole keynotes and both Marie Wieck (on day 2) and Mychelle Mollot (on day 3) did great.

All coming together: API Economy = (SoftLayer + BlueMix + APIs) / Marketplace

The overall IBM strategy going forward has become even clearer now, that where it already was after Pulse (see here). IBM’s vision of an API economy where API providers publish their APIs and API consumers use a tool (BlueMix) to compose their applications and then run that in a hybrid cloud with the help of SoftLayer is unique. Composed Apps are sold and purchased on a marketplace, which was IBM’s big announcement for Impact - though it was mentioned and previewed at Pulse a few weeks earlier.

So in Pseudo-Math the IBM Strategy can be expressed in the formula of the header of this section - and it is a very compelling vision. It sets IBM apart from the competition and is an expression of IBM’s deep understanding of the enterprise’s automation needs. As mentioned earlier - IBM is different from its competition having a major consultant force on its books and with that the undesirable - but possible outcome - that composing next generation applications with BlueMix is more labor intensive than originally expected - may not be desirable, but is an outcome IBM can stomach. Imagine Amazon or Microsoft needing consultants to deliver next generation applications - they simply with their current abilities, could not deliver them. Oracle may be able to go a little further and HP even a little further, but IBM has definitively the most hands in consulting amongst the cloud players. And of course one could say - they all can and have to partner - but partnering with cutting edge technology always has unwanted variables in ramp-up speed of partners and ensuring early adopter success.

Implications, Implications...

So what does it mean for... 
  • IBM customers & prospects - We largely remain with our analysis from Pulse in February. It’s good to see a vendor innovate as well as IBM is innovating. Adding 30 new cloud services to BlueMix is a good pace, a pace that IBM need to keep up for the quarters to come. The Marketplace is in its infancy - so do not let your aspirations be limited by what you see on the market place - but work actively with IBM to see what can and could be done - and even more importantly what not.

    For potential mobile projects we would advise customers to use Worklight, especially in more conservative settings. Especially if it’s a mobile only project. For broader next generation projects, beyond a mobile usage but including mobile we encourage decision makers to look at BlueMix.

    IBM SaaS customers should have a watchful eye on BlueMix and the marketplace - and making sure that IBM delivers on their respective SaaS product roadmap. Given the BlueMix progress we now tend to advice customers with ambitious integration plans to put these on the shelf and see what happens with BlueMix. Some integrations and integration capability may come for free - or be much easier to implement in the next quarters.

    Prospective customers should compare with competitive offerings, but if your enterprise automation has been less than a good fit in the past - the API economy vision and direction is something to keep an eye on. With IBM not having unveiled pricing yet - both prospects and customers need to be cautious on cost implications.
  • IBM Partners - Existing IBM partners who want to keep playing a role need to look at BlueMix and draft their value proposition in the API economy going forward. IP centric partners should get at the front of the line, service oriented partners need to draft their go forward strategy. It’s likely IBM customers will still pay for large implementations, but partners should not feel to secure of the cloud not squeezing implementation budgets in a similar way as it has already for traditional enterprise software implementations.

    It’s a great time for prospective partners - both with an IP and services background to get in the fray and claim a stake in the IBM cloud ecosystem better early than late.

    Lastly partners should not underestimate the marketplace, while still in its infancy today it may mature sooner and faster than partners anticipate and the potential self-service enablement of line of business decision makers can create havoc in revenue plans.
  • IBM - We wrote after Pulse:

    IBM needs to keep adding and building more services and APIs into BlueMix. Early references, success stories will be key to show impact and get the large - and mostly conservative - IBM install base to move to BlueMix faster. Obviously, get the pricing right, easier said than done. Look into exposing more products that were features at IBMConnection as a differentiator to other cloud PaaS out there. Publish a road map both for the SoftLayer expansion to Power as well as the addition of APIs from the SaaS portfolio to BlueMix.

    So IBM did well on adding more services in short 2 months. The rest of our advice stands - what we additionally see is that, IBM will need to find their Netflix - a large customer cloud load that does not come from the usual customer segments, and may even be a competitor. At Impact all of IBM’s strategy was organic, services engagement one customer at the time. And that will still be good business for IBM, but not enough to win the cloud wars, which are all about economies of scale. In order to attract these loads, IBM will have to define, evangelize and service logical fold lines in its architecture. APIs, composition, virtualization come to mind. But first things first - pricing and a roadmap for clients and prospects to align their strategic plans with those of IBM.
  • Competitors - IBM is moving fast and has a viable platform with SoftLayer. That wasn’t the same a year ago - when the smarter xxx landscape was not really ready for prime time in the cloud. Pent up demand and new found dynamics all play in IBM’s favor - so it’s time to create a differentiating value proposition. On the IaaS side it is pretty clear what is a hand, on the PaaS side determine both threat and potential of an API strategy. There is no loss of honor in imitating and implementing maybe even better. And on the SaaS side it’s time to pick a next generation platform to build on. Some SaaS vendors may have the potential to become the aforementioned Netflix of IBM (with that we allude to Netflix’s decision to run most of its IT on Amazon AWS, a competitor on the market - but a strategic partner in IT).


A very good Impact conference and good progress since Pulse by IBM. Is there an event in 2 months to check-in again - no. So we will have to trust IBM to keep the pace it has set and deliver more services, a more capable marketplace and more data centers to run the load. In the meantime IBM needs to educate customers - Centers and Garages can only do so much - but must also show the path on how to migrate in the future. Roadmaps and pricing are the key deliverables. A future that looks much better for IBM than it did 12 months ago. What a difference a year - and an acquisition - SoftLayer - can make. 

P.S. I did not go into the whole DevOps side - Jazz is now DevOps by the way - needs a whole separate blog post - less on product specifics but overall industry philosophy..

More on IBM by me:
  • First Take - 3 Key Takeaways from IBM's Impact Conference - Day 1 Keynote - read here
  • Another week and another Billion - this week it's a BlueMix Paas - read here
  • First take - IBM makes Connection - introduces the TalentSuite at IBM Connect - read here
  • IBM kicks of cloud data center race in 2014 - read here
  • First Take - IBM Software Group's Analyst Insights - read here
  • Are we witnessing one of the largest cloud moves - so far? Read here
  • Why IBM acquired Softlayer - read her