TBR attended IBM Think in a virtual format for the third consecutive year, and this time around we sensed a new IBM. No longer beholden to its low-margin managed infrastructure services business, IBM is emerging a more agile, streamlined and focused organization, especially as it looks to lead the digital revolution through two overarching areas: getting customers to embrace a hybrid architecture and helping them unlock data-driven insights through AI.
This strategic pivot was driven home not only by high-level executives, including CEO Arvind Krishna himself in an exclusive Q&A session with the analyst community, but also through the various partnership announcements, service launches and upskilling programs unveiled over the course of the interactive, two-day event.
Through Red Hat, Software and Consulting, IBM has created an end-to-end approach to unlocking hybrid cloud’s value
Closing in on the three-year anniversary of its acquisition of Red Hat, IBM (NYSE: IBM) continues to execute on its hybrid cloud vision, offering the services and software needed to integrate and orchestrate enterprise workloads across multiple environments. With the exception of some mono cloud and data center-only customers, enterprises are largely heterogenous in how they consume IT, drawing on multiple architectures, vendors and environments.
Considering IBM’s large legacy software install base and ties to the mainframe, this trend bodes well for the company as it can leverage Red Hat OpenShift — which now has roughly four times the number of customers it had prior to the acquisition — to unlock siloed data and extend it to any public cloud. The challenge, however, as articulated by Roger Premo, general manager, corporate development and strategy, is that getting greenfield applications to the cloud is only Step 1 in achieving a scalable hybrid cloud framework, yet the amount of time, level of skills needed and executive-level pushback are some of the factors that keep enterprises from expanding on their lift-and-shift investments.
Hoping to advance customers through the containerization, operational change and replatforming phases of hybrid cloud adoption, IBM is revamping its go-to-market model, closely aligning the Software and Consulting business units to address customer needs end to end. For instance, IBM Consulting is invested in the technology behind IBM’s hybrid cloud and AI vision, providing clients the tools needed to provision their own hybrid environments, which, as phases of adoption become more complicated, will naturally pull in more automation, observability and AI assets, as well as additional advisory assistance to help determine which clouds are best suited to which workloads.
Specifically, Premo highlighted the data fabric, which has grown synonymous with IBM Cloud Pak for Data, as one of the technology pieces underpinning IBM Consulting’s value proposition for building and modernizing applications in a hybrid cloud environment. While IBM is still committed to supporting legacy data warehouses and on-premises databases, the company is likely encouraging customers to adopt the data fabric for integrated capabilities that help simplify data management, such as cataloging and automated governance. Essentially an ecosystem of data powered by active metadata, IBM’s data fabric allows various AI offerings, from decision intelligence to machine learning, to run in any environment, while maintaining a common, governed framework.
IBM’s partner strategy continues to evolve post-Red Hat
IBM has always prided itself on having a broad partner ecosystem but appears to be taking a page out of Red Hat’s playbook by creating a more open position in how it goes to market. For instance, as a full-stack vendor specializing in infrastructure, platform software and professional services, IBM naturally runs up against competition in many areas but appears more willing to risk coopetition to do what is in the best interests of the customer.
TBR notes this is a stark contrast from the SoftLayer days, when IBM seemed more concerned with protecting its direct business interests. Today, Big Blue is absorbing more of Red Hat’s operational best practices and is investing in dedicated teams across the ecosystem, including niche ISVs, hyperscalers, global systems integrators (GSIs), advisory firms and monolithic SaaS companies. At the same time, preserving Red Hat’s independence remains equally important, and as Premo indicates, the relationship between IBM and Red Hat is asymmetrical in that IBM is biased toward Red Hat but Red Hat is not biased toward IBM.
IBM inks strategic partner agreement with AWS to scale ‘as a Service’ software
In one of the more newsworthy announcements at IBM Think Digital 2022, IBM unveiled it is working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) (Nasdaq: AMZN) as part of a multiyear agreement that brings the IBM Software portfolio, delivered “as a Service,” to AWS’ cloud infrastructure. Customers can now take advantage of the popular click-to-buy experience on the AWS Marketplace to run IBM data and automation assets, including Db2, API Connect and Watson Orchestrate, among others, in an AWS environment. This partnership announcement is a testament to the major strategy shift IBM made three years ago when it acquired Red Hat and standardized on the OpenShift platform, which, being based on Linux and containers, makes the platform and subsequent IBM software applicable on any infrastructure, including AWS.
This platform approach is also providing IBM the flexibility to adapt alongside changing customer buying habits, including a shift toward cloud managed services, which is the fastest-growing usage of OpenShift and prompted the launch of Red Hat OpenShift on AWS (ROSA) at last year’s Red Hat Summit. Customers looking to offload operations to site reliability engineers (SREs) will be able to deploy IBM SaaS offerings integrated with ROSA as a managed service, although IBM is continuing to support customers looking to protect their capex investments as there are over 30 IBM licensed software offerings available on the AWS Marketplace. Expanding service availability is only one part of the partner agreement as IBM indicates it will work with AWS in other areas, including co-selling and co-marketing initiatives that could engage AWS sales teams and help IBM further tap into AWS’ expansive customer base.
Strategically, IBM is staying the course with its strategy, leveraging Red Hat’s neutral status and integrations with hyperscalers to sell more software and attached services. Offering IBM SaaS on AWS is a strategic move as it will allow IBM to address customers that have years of experience running IBM software but want the scale of AWS’ cloud infrastructure, which TBR interprets as IBM prioritizing partner clouds at the expense of its own so it can focus solely on OpenShift and Software. Further, as IBM looks to grow its software business, particularly through the monetization of “as a Service” models built on OpenShift, leveraging partner marketplaces will be key, especially considering IBM lacks marketplace capabilities at scale and IT procurement continues to rally around the digital catalogs of AWS, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Google Cloud (Nasdaq: GOOGL).
Use of RISE with SAP internally aligns with IBM’s vision to bring legacy ERP to the hybrid cloud
IBM joined the roster of 1,000-plus RISE with SAP customers, announcing it is migrating to SAP Business Suite 4 HANA (S/4HANA) to streamline business operations across its Software, Infrastructure and Consulting units. This announcement comes just months after IBM unveiled a new supplier option via the BREAKTHROUGH with IBM for RISE with SAP program, which enables customers to bundle professional services with IBM IaaS offerings as part of a unified contract and set of service-level agreements (SLAs).
IBM’s new migration project will leverage the premium supplier option and bring over 375 terabytes of on-premises data to IBM Power on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) on IBM Cloud. While IBM is partnering with GSIs in many areas, SAP (NYSE: SAP) implementations is likely one of the areas where competition is fiercer between IBM and its peers, especially as the end-of-life deadline for legacy SAP R3 approaches. However, the premium supplier option paired with IBM’s over 38,000 trained SAP consultants could help the company better tap into SAP’s base of over 30,000 on-premises ERP customers and challenge the likes of Accenture (NYSE: ACN) and Deloitte.