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Taneja Blog / Cloud / Data Center Systems

Many paths to the one cloud - IBM and VMware

IBM is riding a giant wave of cloud-buzz this week after announcing an official strategy of leveraging OpenStack for future private as well as public IBM cloud offerings - just today, March 5th, 2013.  This is a significant announcement from IBM, as it declares a future architectural direction and will put OpenStack in the center of focus for a good portion of IBM's 400,000+ employees (a good chunk of who are developers) as well as IBM's tremendous development ecosystem (crossing such brands and products as Rational, InfoSphere, WebSphere, Informix, DB2, Lotus, Cognos, FileNet, etc.).

For OpenStack this is a tremendous win.  It is hard to imagine a bigger win in fact.  A company that has recently had its brand valued at $64B is a tremendous endorsement. 

But it doesn't change some of the challenges for OpenStack, and may actually make some worse. OpenStack is no doubt flourishing, but as an open source initiative, a natural part of that process seems inevitably to be forks and the development of various different flavors. While OpenStack faces a number of challenges in developing beyond significant complexity, the biggest challenge for IBM may be OpenStack's current flavors and existing inertia in that direction. For a force as big as IBM, it will be challenging to get the troops to all march in line, and get the message across about a distinct OpenStack flavor and IBM differentiated capabilities. Among hundreds of thousands of developers who may already look to other sources for OpenStack, how is IBM supposed to say "this is the one to use". What will customers do if they engage in an IBM architecture and require services they can't get from other flavors of OpenStack, especially in large global organizations that might have not only the public cloud marketplace, but also several private clouds to choose from. And it can only be a short matter of time before IBM's flavor of OpenStack must look pretty unique - the current OpenStack contains considerable complexity that wouldn't make for a viable IBM private cloud architecture. As IBM takes up OpenStack, can it steer the platform well enough to suit its own purposes without breaking the openness of OpenStack? And can IBM tolerate the divergent nature (from where much innovation arises) of an open source platform when it becomes central to many products and their development ecosystem? I think only time will tell, as it isn't sufficient to argue that historic lessons from Linux provide an answer. Linux is a far different creature than a complex stack built to scale to data center sizes. Frankly, I was hoping that OpenStack would continue its rapid march forward through the efforts of innovators like PistonCloud, and at present, I think there is significant risk that this announcement draws away focus from the fundamentals, and suddenly transforms OpenStack into too big of an exercise for little voices to be heard. Can IBM propel maturity further forward without entirely consuming OpenStack into something proprietary?


As we look at the bigger market, IBM's OpenStack announcement has thrown down a strategy gauntlet with VMware - they are now both approaching the public cloud market with diametric strategies. One is trying to extend their hypervisor roots into a public cloud architecture, and foster an ecosystem of providers (VMware). The other is taking on cloud with an architecture that is first built for the public cloud, and turn it into a private cloud architecture, while likely standing up significant public services themselves (IBM).  Now you can use whatever terminology you want for two divergent sets of compute we see going on - systems of record versus systems of engagement for example - but the bottom line is both companies have a big stake in both types of compute, and neither is ready to give it up as an enterprise IT initiative they can enable.  VMware has a ton of resources focused on enabling new architectures for applications that are now moving to hyperscale environments in the public cloud.  IBM has built a tremendous portfolio that could be seriously hammered if IBM offerings were considered secondary to "where can I build this?" questions in new IT initiatives.

It is ironic to think that in deeper analysis, the histories of both companies might suggest that they would be naturally more inclined to the strategy of the other. These must be turbulent clouds to play this kind of havoc with strategies.

There will nonetheless be some interesting angles for a third major vendor to explore, especially if someone were to innovate in packaging and cross-cloud interoperability simultaneously.

  • Premiered: 03/05/13
  • Author: Taneja Group
Topic(s): IBM VMWare Cloud OpenStack Private Public Platform PaaS IaaS


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