IBM Buys Cloudant To Boost SoftLayer Partner Appeal

IBM is buying Boston-based startup and database-as-a-service firm Cloudant as it tries to entice customers to its SoftLayer cloud platform and boost its relevance as a hosted infrastructure service. Cloudant, which was founded in 2008 and has raised $16 million in venture capital, is known for its services handling complex databases and big data processing.

The deal, revealed Monday for an undisclosed sum, will allow IBM and developers to more easily create mobile and web apps, the company said. With the acquisition, IBM expands its commitment to develop the NoSQL framework and CouchDB. Previously, IBM had focused on MongoDB as a standard for next-generation web and mobile applications.

"It's always good to see technology leaders acknowledge innovative startups and help them scale their business. IBM has been making a lot of interesting cloud acquisitions that suggest it's moving in the right direction with the cloud," said Ryan Cunningham, vice president of product for Seattle-based ClipCard, an IBM cloud and mobile partner.

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The news comes on the same day IBM said it planned to spend $1 billion in cloud-software development over the next two years. Part of that investment includes what IBM calls its BlueMix services, which it announced Monday at its annual Pulse cloud user conference in Las Vegas. BlueMix is a marketplace where IBM partners can search for and deploy more than 2,000 applications and services that run on the SoftLayer platform.

Cloudant's DBaaS runs on IBM's recently acquired SoftLayer cloud platform, but also runs on competitors' platforms, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Rackspace and Microsoft's Windows Azure. Cloudant had made a name for itself developing a new generation of NoSQL databases that don't require fixed table schemas, which challenged the dominance of traditional relational databases (including the popular MySQL). They include Cassandra, MongoDB and the Apache Software Foundation's CouchDB.

"IBM is building out its cloud business as fast as it can to counter threats by Amazon and others that have established toeholds in the market. Cloudant is a smart buy and gives IBM one more way to aggressively evolve from a hardware, software and services company to a cloud-services-based company," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

IBM's BDaaS investments come just as a bevy of startups and large enterprises race for dominance in the quickly evolving DBaaS landscape. AWS and Microsoft have their own database products, along with big computing companies such as Hewlett-Packard with its analytic database management software company Vertica services.

IBM's wake-up call, Enderle said, was Amazon's winning bid for a $600 million CIA contract last year. "That gave IBM the kick in the pants it needed to step up its cloud reorganization. Right now, IBM is lagging other smaller, more nimble, competitors. But as it buys up more key cloud players, it's closing the gap quickly," he said.

Cloudant received $12 million in funding from Rackspace in May. It also received funding from Samsung Ventures in February.