IBM Takes Its Cloud Marketing Campaign Behind Enemy Lines

This week in Las Vegas, buses with ads proclaiming IBM's superior cloud expertise and technology were seen on the strip outside the venue for Amazon's AWS re:Invent conference. "Whose cloud powers 270,000 more websites than Amazon?" reads one of the bus ads, referring to IBM's SoftLayer unit.

Attendees at the AWS re:Invent conference had a good laugh when AWS Senior Vice President Andy Jassy showed of photo of the ad during his Wednesday keynote, noting that IBM seemed to be "protesting" Amazon's event. He could have been referring to the protest IBM filed in March after the CIA picked AWS for a $600 million, 10-year cloud contract.

[Related: 7 Things The Judge Didn't Like About IBM's CIA Cloud Legal Battle With Amazon ]

While a conference full of people making money on the AWS cloud probably isn't the best venue, IBM gets points for showing that it's not going to cede the enterprise cloud space without a fight.

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Michael Porter, principal of the portal and social practice at Perficient, a St. Louis-based IBM partner, likes the aggressive tack and thinks IBM can benefit simply by establishing itself as an AWS rival.

"IBM is not top of mind when people think of cloud, and that could have a negative impact as businesses move to fully embrace the wide range of cloud options," Porter told CRN.

While IBM is doing a lot in the cloud space, it has been somewhat disjointed, Porter told CRN. IBM is shutting down its SmartCloud Enterprise cloud IaaS service and moving customers to SoftLayer by the end of January.

In the new campaign, IBM is highlighting SoftLayer's long history in the hosting market, and the fact that customers can purchase dedicated servers or pay based on what they use. IBM also claims that many of the 1,000 customers it has signed up since closing the SoftLayer deal in July were wins against AWS.

IBM still has a long way to go to catch up with AWS. Gartner, in its Magic Quadrant report on cloud IaaS in August, said AWS has five times the compute capacity of the other 14 vendors in the study combined.

Chipping away at AWS' image may seem like a tall order, but Porter said he thinks IBM can, in time, make an impression in the minds of IT buyers. Even if three-quarters of the ad impressions are met with skepticism, IBM still had the chance to send a message, Porter said.

Viewers may dismiss IBM's message about being bigger than AWS, but if they accept that IBM is a cloud player, "that's still a better outcome than not being in the conversation," said Porter.