Entries in competitive strategy (2)


IBM v. AWS: Who 'wins' at the Cloud Game?

This morning, I encountered an article by Rob Enderle of CIO.com entitled: Why IBM Will Win the War with Amazon Web Services.

While I don't believe Enderle takes the time to play this out, there's reason for giving this notion some real, serious consideration.  The unstated, but important premise on which Enderle's story depends is: IBM has used the past three years to watch the cloud industry, sees where it's going, and has bought into the 'open technology' aspects of the cloud industry (in a way analogous to the way it embraced TCP/IP-oriented networking and the Linux operating system). 

Having recognized this, my key take-aways are:

  • Premise: IBM's offerings under the SmartCloud Enterprise umbrella have been placeholders and holding actions, which permits IBM to assess the winning technical directions and offerings, assess their maturity, throw significant resources into development and acqisitions, and emerge with a formidable, contemporary and commercially mature set of cloud offerings. 
  • First, IBM has and knows how to establish credibility with those parts of the organization that make technology purchasing decisions.  Few organizations have EVER out-marketed IBM. And, while we've become accustomed to paying the price for IBM's customization and customer-centric support, those aspects of their products DO impact the purchasing and operating decisions of Enterprise and even SMB IT.
  • Second, so long as IBM fields cloud infrastructure and platform that is performant, compliant and adheres to the standards on which the developer and operations communities rely, the battle's outcome is likely to depend most heavily on credibility, positioning, packaging and attendance to the 'customer facing' aspects.

The Unstated Premise.  Unlike CIO.com, I would have made the premise much more concrete and factual: IBM's initial push to respond to the rapid (... ok, the explosive) growth of cloud infrastructure services was a 'holding action.'  It has been, in great measure, a means by which a large (and entrenched) IT company responds to a market demand that AWS has both created and then served so well.  In this regard, I view IBM's recent activities in revising their cloud computing lineup with a perspective quite different from those who interpret these moves as commercial failure (like Nirvanix), customer abandonment (at worst) or perhaps bait-and-switch. Like Ben Kepes in his post on IBM, I note and am more heartily in alignment with Holger Mueller on the SCE announcements.

IBM is now selectively phasing out their initial offers (offered up under the SmartCloud Enterprise moniker), to be replaced by a 'composed' offering that relies on open cloud infrastructure (both CloudStack and OpenStack) delivered by Softlayer; storage solutions that are in lockstep with the maturity of OpenStack object storage as well as older forms more familiar to those with private SAN or NAS appliances; platform services built on Pivotal's Cloud Foundry and a stated reliance on BOSH as a general purpose utility for deployment of complex, composed applications; and… the list goes on.  

IBM's cloud thought leaders are incredibly active in their support of and contribution to open source cloud.  And, it's not just a marketing and sloganeering effort.  There is a real presence by the IBM cloud technology strategists like Angel Diaz at the Cloud Foundry Conference or Mac Devine's Keynote address recently the LinuxCon + CloudOpen conference. (Check here for the post-keynote panel discussion.)

Disparagement and Derision about Marketing and Packaging.  

As I started to read Enderle's article, I wondered at the likely reaction from the Clouderati who are now mostly engaged in word-wars about mindshare between AWS and OpenStack (with Open CloudStack making a guest appearance), the PaaS competitions which have emerged, and the various flavors of "software defined everything."  I tweeted the CIO.com link and predicted that the Cloud commentary would be generally negative, derisive reaction.

I'm now going to ask for Clouderati restraint.  (… and if any of you comment about the oxymoronic nature of that concept, bear with me.)  Before throwing brickbats at IBM or at one another, take a moment to consider:

  • If this article were about ANY other major systems or services provider, would you have made the same comments?
  • In the face of a company that has signed up to embrace open source cloud and enhance it with specific added value options for their EXISTING as well as new customers, would you not have lauded the transition as being true to the open source software credo?
  • When you consider companies that have dominated their sectors of the technology market in the recent past - including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, BEA, Red Hat - to what degree HAS marketing, positioning and attendance to the purchasing customer and the end-user been a major pillar of their strategy and ultimate commercial success?

Now re-read the Enderle article, and drop me a line (or a tweet at @rhm2k).  



Infrastructure (-aaS) goes to war


Among the most interesting developments in the business of IaaS during the past few months has been the rather dramatic ways in which the players have been throwing down guantlets.  Some notable examples:

  • The incumbent AWS, in Andy Jassy's recent AWS Summit presentation, has diss'd private cloud as "false cloud" 
  • Turning the beam to illuminate their position with respect to other infrastructure services, AWS has a point to showcase their record of continual price reductions while delivering just-in-time functionality to its community of customers when compared to other IaaS offerings.
  • The new aspirants GCE and VMware vCloud Hybrid Service have made clear their intention to appeal to their constituents -- the cutting edge development communities in need of almost unheard of scale in the case of Google, and the enterprise in search of the promises of hybrid clouds in the case of VMware
  • Rackspace and Joyent have revised their pricings, while accompanying the announcements with functional additions or the promise ('real soon now') of functionality and service level assurances to their customers and customers-to-be.

Like many other observers of the cloud services industry, I've made comments that include the terms 'commoditization' and 'race to the bottom.'  But in looking at historical analogs, I am coming to the conclusion that there are other ways to interpret the situation in IaaS, and consider possible outcomes other than an eventual oligopoly of the 'Big Three.'

In the upcoming series of blog posts, I hope to take selectively from the economic history of the steel industry and the airline industry to point out how the cloud infrastructure industry's 'future history' might play out.  An analyst and observer of industries is always at risk when predicting the future -- so I won't.  But I will point out some similarities to major techno-industrial disruptions, the tactics and strategies of competition, and their resulting successes and failures.  

I welcome reaction, commentary, alternative interpretation, but please... no name-calling.