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InterConnect 2017: IBM Cloud All-In-One

I attended the IBM InterConnect conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago. It was held in the Mandalay Bay hotel, a place I visited and stayed for many times before as VMware had many of its conferences there. Everything looked familiar except that it was an IBM conference.

The conference attracted more than 20,000 attendees, similar size as VMworld US. What really surprised me was the check-in – no line there and after typing my info on a tablet, the card was immediately printed out just besides me. I picked it up and grabbed a badge holder, and all done in a couple of minutes.

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As a former IBMer, I’ve been away from IBM world for more than 10 years. This conference gave me an excellent opportunity to familiarize myself with IBM technologies and products again. Like many conferences I go these days, I spent most of my time in the exhibition hall (actually called Concourse in IBM’s term), talking to different vendors including IBM, which occupied over half of the exhibition space there. As you would expect, I spent more than half of the time checking out IBM products and offerings. Although IBM is quite a business-driven company, I actually talked to many IBM architects and engineers who know the products very well, and more importantly, were passionate about what they created. That really made my days out there.

There are too many technologies and products to cover, and I won’t be able to list all of them here but rather discuss my personal observations and takes from the conference.

1. Although we don’t hear much about IBM in the Silicon Valley, IBM actually has great technologies especially in areas like AI, where IBM Watson has pioneered for many years. The Watson’s root can be traced back to the DeepBlue, the chess playing machine that won the world chess champion for the first time in 1990s. Over the years, the AI capabilities have been extended to machine translation, natural language understanding, image processing, voice recognition, etc. These technologies can and will significantly change the way how the human machine interact.

Under the name of the cloud and powered by the cloud, IBM is exposing these capabilities as cloud services. With simple APIs, customers can take advantage of these technologies easily. Some of these services are even packaged as JavaScript widgets like VirtualAgent. Customers can simply embedd the JavaScript code snippet in their Websites. After configuring the backend, the VirtualAgent can act like a bot and answer real questions from visitors to customers’ Website. Sounds pretty cool.

Starting with a price tag of $260 per month, it seems a bit too high for small businesses. That is why I suggested to an IBMer at booth duty to lower the starting price and charge based on the usage. IBM could consider an even bolder move by making it totally free to small companies in exchange of massive data which it can monetize with other ways, for example, selling market research data and reports, building IBM brand for free by IBM logo on the VirtualAgent widget.

Over the years, IBM has withdrew from consumer market and focused on enterprise market. The brand recognition is not as good as many years where you can find IBM logo on every IBM ThinkPad. The VirtualAgent or similar can help to improve the brand among generic public. Considering the billions of dollars on marketing and advertisement spending by IBM, making the a few tools free is worthwhile.

2. IBM has pretty much everything. From what I had seen, IBM has full cloud service stacks from SoftLayer infrastructure, BlueMix PaaS, to a few SaaS like data analytics. Given its strong holds in enterprise market, it can be a very powerful force in the cloud market. As I talked to a few big customers over the breakfasts and lunches, all trust IBM to guide them through this cloud revolution.

The other side of the “everything” is that IBM may have everything but hardly be top one or three in each thing. Given the IBM size and acquisitions over the years, the marketing and branding definitely need some more works. For one thing, I think IBM should have one, and only one, brand for its cloud. Once the brand is established, different services can be marketed and promoted more effectively. It will be better for IBM on brand recognition, and for customers with no confusion plus single portal for everything.

Instead of creative names like BlueMix, Watson, etc., I think IBM can simply call it IBM Cloud, or IBM Cloud Platform (ICP). Not only can it be easily understood by customers, but also indirectly polish IBM brand with cloud image.

3. IBM needs more partners to build stronger ecosystems. I’ve seen good partnerships with IBM in the show floor, but definitely not enough for IBM’s ambition. This could be extremely difficult for a company like IBM given its size and tradition.

The business model around the cloud is quite different from the one that focuses on big enterprise. The market leader AWS, for example, grew its business initially from startup companies, mostly small companies. Each may generate small revenue, but the big volume totals up a big revenue number. More importantly, it created a huge user base that readies AWS to penetrate into more lucrative enterprise market now.

I believe it’s critical for IBM to build its partnership with ISVs, even with those offering competing products with IBM, just like IBM Global Services also recommends competitors’ products. With more choices to customers, IBM will see stronger ecosystem and faster growth in the cloud market.

While not in the exhibition hall and not in parties, I spent a few hours in the conference hands-on labs, where I found a familiar VMware product – the VMware workstation. A bit of interesting observation here about the hands labs, which most of my readers may have a good interest.

Like VMware’s hands-on labs, each lab consists of lab material and exercise VM(s). Once scanned the badge, I could pick and start a new lab. The automation script automatically starts the related virtual machines (mostly Ubuntu) locally. At first, I tried the commands and GUI operations. But later on, I most browse through the lab materials, just to get more labs “done” in shortest time. Most of the materials are filled with enough details and GUI screenshots. Reading them offers me pretty good information and high level concepts. Ideally I should go through these labs, but time did not allow. Will try so next time I go back to the conference again.

  1. April 3rd, 2017 at 00:34 | #1

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  2. April 3rd, 2017 at 01:14 | #2

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