NexGen Cloud: IBM Tells Partners To Transform Before It's Too Late

IBM's Robert LeBlanc

Cloud and mobility is causing a huge disruption in how IT gets done, and solution providers will have to go through their own transformations to make sure they are ready to succeed in a continuously changing IT environment.

That's the word from Robert LeBlanc, senior vice president of IBM software and cloud solutions, who on Thursday told a crowd of solution providers at this week's NexGen Cloud Conference & Expo that the ongoing transformation will leave anyone behind who is not asking one simple question.

"How do I go from where I was to where I'm going. ... No one is immune from that transformation," LeBlanc said.

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In the new cloud and mobile world, data is the next competitive advantage, LeBlanc said. That data may sit on a mobile device, but it is more and more likely accessible via the cloud, he said.

The cloud itself is spawning a whole new set of business models. "Every business is affected," he said. "And I think the biggest change is in the processes. ... I haven't been to a bank in over a year. I just take a picture of my check and send it in. And the banks don't want to deal with my queries about the check. They've changed their processes to automatically confirm receipt."

Because of this, solutions have to look at new ways to engage with customers, LeBlanc said. "Is mobile driving the cloud, or is the cloud driving mobile. ... The answer is yes," he said.

An IBM survey found that 91 percent of new software is being built for cloud delivery, LeBlanc said. "That's where we all have to go," he said. "So when you get to the cloud, you have to think, 'I'm not just a reseller. I have to add value.'"

This transformation, however, is not happening overnight, which is why hybrid clouds that tie on-premises and cloud infrastructures together are so important, LeBlanc said.

"Hybrid clouds bring the new world and the traditional world together," he said. "We don't have the opportunity to say, 'Why don't I put the world on hold while I move.' ... You can't go to investors and say, 'I'm going through a transformation. Can you wait for me for a year?'"

That makes it important that solution providers get ready to take advantage of the move to hybrid clouds, LeBlanc said. "That's where most of the money will be spent," he said. "That's where the value is."

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LeBlanc (right) with CIMA's John Alday

John Alday, president of CIMA Solutions Group, a Lewisville, Texas-based IBM solution provider as well as a provider of cloud and managed services, joined LeBlanc on stage to talk to the conference attendees about his own company's business transformation, including the importance of branding itself while bringing business value to customers.

When asked about what kind of advice Alday would give his peers on their business transformations, he said it was important to attend events like NexGen Cloud. "Learn from other individuals, from their mistakes and their success," he said.

Alday also said it is important to not throw the baby out with the bath water. "We still sell infrastructure. ... We're keeping all these things in play," he said.

Alday said IBM has been helpful, in large part because the vendor is figuratively sitting at a partner's door. "If I say I'm going to go this way, I know there'll be an army of people behind us," he said.

Alday also said his company is coin-operated, and moving to the cloud carries a risk in terms of margins. "We looked at all the cloud services providers," he said. "We offer them all. But we've found IBM to be the best."

Bob Longo, vice president of business development at ClearPointe, a Little Rock, Ark.-based managed services provider and partner with both Microsoft and Amazon Web Services, said his company hadn't partnered with IBM in the past, but may have to give the vendor another look.

Longo said he didn't realize that IBM offers geographic-specific data centers, or that it has a wide-open door in terms of the ability to bring any workload to its cloud offerings.

"Azure needs servers to be a certain way," Longo told CRN. "IBM is like Amazon. Amazon told us, 'We're like a hotel. We don't care what happens in the rooms.' Microsoft has a lot to learn from Amazon."

Longo said it was interesting to hear Alday say that IBM offered the best margins in the industry for cloud services.

"That's a bold statement," he said. "I'm going to deep-dive on that claim."

IBM offers the most on-ramps to the cloud, LeBlanc said. These include the ability to use IBM SoftLayer in a bare metal implementation; the SoftLayer PureApplication System; IBM's Bluemix Platform-as-a-Service for building a company's own cloud; and IBM's Software-as-a-Service applications.

NEXT: IBM's On-Ramps To The Cloud

IBM last year acquired SoftLayer, mainly because SoftLayer was built on a private network based on dark fibre, and not on a public cloud, which LeBlanc said is an important distinction.

"You get the right level of services," he said. "You get performance, security. And you know where the data is."

That allows geographic-specific hosting of data, which is important in countries like Germany, where data by law cannot reside in U.S.-based data centers, LeBlanc said.

IBM SoftLayer is being used to host born-on-the-web applications, such as WhatsApp and Yelp, as well as enterprise applications like SAP, he said.

On the PaaS side, IBM has said it will invest $1 billion in developing Bluemix, which takes advantage of IBM's Watson technology to offer customers a way to build their own IT platforms.

Watson was originally a single large system, but IBM has since broken it up into multiple Watson analytics services that allow anyone to use them as part of their own services.

"Most of you will not build an app," he said. "[Your apps] will be assembled from modules. That's why we brought out Bluemix."

There is no Bluemix 1.0, or 2.0, or 3.0, LeBlanc said. "It's continuous development," he said. "You have to think of devops. ... The idea of 'I'll install version 1 or version 2' is the old paradigm."

IBM also now has more than 100 SaaS offering that partners can take advantage of, LeBlanc said. The company is moving its entire software portfolio to the cloud, but many of those applications also will continue to have on-premises versions to give customers a choice, he said.

IBM also has several alliances to help its cloud and mobility efforts, LeBlanc said. This includes the IBM-Apple alliance for developing next-generation mobile applications; an IBM-Twitter alliance for integrating Twitter data into business analytics; and the IBM OpenPower alliance for building applications based on IBM Power-based server platforms.

"IBM, as a company, we can't do it alone," he said. "That's why we have these alliances."