Jan
17
2019
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IBM and Vodafone form cloud, 5G and AI business venture and ink $550M service deal

IBM is one of the world’s biggest system integrators, but to get closer to where enterprises are actually doing their work, it’s been inking partnerships with companies that build devices and run the networks enterprises are using for their IT, and today comes the latest development on that front.

IBM is announcing a new venture with mobile carrier Vodafone, in a deal that will comes in two parts. First, IBM will supply Vodafone’s B2B unit Vodafone Business with managed services in the areas of cloud and hosting. And second, the two will together work on building and delivering solutions in areas like AI, cloud, 5G, IoT and software defined networking to enterprise customers.

The latter part of the deal appears to be a classic JV that will see both sides bringing something to the table — employees from both companies will be moving into a separate office together very soon that will essentially be “neutral” territory. The former part, meanwhile, will see Vodafone paying IBM some $550 million in an eight-year agreement.

That price tag alone is a strong indicator that this deal is a big one for both companies.

The agreement follows along the lines of what IBM inked with Apple several years ago, where the two would work together to develop enterprise solutions that would have been more challenging to do on their own.

Indeed, while IBM does provide systems integration services, it hasn’t moved as deeply into mobile-specific solutions for businesses, even as its other operational units — doing research and other work in AI, cloud, quantum computing and other areas — are making strong headway on specific projects, some of which involve mobile technology. Now that it’s nearly in full possession of RedHat — which it is in the process of buying for $34 billion, a deal that’s now received the approval of RedHat’s shareholders — it will also have open source cloud computing to add to that.

What the Vodafone deal will tap is taking more of those cutting-edge developments that IBM has built and worked on in specific projects, and productise them for a wider audience of businesses and other organisations, which might already be Vodafone customers.

“To deliver multi-cloud strategies in the real world, enterprises need to invest at many levels, ranging from cloud connectivity to cloud governance and management. This new venture between Vodafone and IBM addresses the ‘full stack’ of real-world multi-cloud concerns with a powerful combination of capabilities that should enable customers to deliver multi-cloud strategies in all layers of their organizations,” noted Carla Arend, senior program director for European software at IDC.

The Apple / IBM deal is more than instructive in this case; it will help fuel this new venture. From what I understand, several fruits of that labor will be making their way into the IBM / Vodafone deal, too, which makes sense, considering Vodafone’s position as a mobile carrier and the iPhone making some strong headway into the business market.

“IBM has built industry-leading hybrid cloud, AI and security capabilities underpinned by deep industry expertise,” said IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty in a statement. “Together, IBM and Vodafone will use the power of the hybrid cloud to securely integrate critical business applications, driving business innovation – from agriculture to next- generation retail.”

“Vodafone has successfully established its cloud business to help our customers succeed in a digital world,” said Vodafone CEO Nick Read, in the statement. “This strategic venture with IBM allows us to focus on our strengths in fixed and mobile technologies, whilst leveraging IBM’s expertise in multicloud, AI and services. Through this new venture we’ll accelerate our growth and deepen engagement with our customers while driving radical simplification and efficiency in our business.”

I’ve been told that the first joint “customer engagements” are already happening with an unnamed energy company. Thinking about what kinds of services Vodafone may be providing to end users today — they will cover mobile data and voice connectivity, mobile broadband, IoT and 5G services — this first deal will involve tapping all four, with an emphasis on 5G and IoT.

Jan
08
2019
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Amid a legal fight in LA, IBM’s Weather Company launches hyperlocal weather forecasts globally

While IBM is getting sued by the city of Los Angeles, accusing it of covertly mining user data in the Weather Channel app in the US, it’s testing the waters for another hyperlocal weather feature that — coincidentally — relies on data that it picks up from sensors on app users’ smartphones, among other devices, combined with AI at IBM’s end to help model the information.

Today at CES, the company announced new service called the Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System — GRAF for short — a new weather forecasting system that says it will provide the most accurate weather for anywhere in the world, running every hour, and in increments of every three kilometers everywhere by way of crunching around 10 terabytes of data every day.

The new hyperlocal weather data will start to become available in 2019.

This is a key piece of news particularly for the developing world. There has been some effort already to create and use hyperlocal weather information in the US market using things like in-built sensors that can pick up information on, for example, barometric pressure — the very feature that is now the subject of a lawsuit — but there have been fewer efforts to bring that kind of service to a wider, global audience.

“If you’re a farmer in Kenya or Kansas, you will get a way better weather prediction,” said Ginny Rometty, the CEO of IBM, announcing the service today at CES.

She added that other potential end users of the data could include airlines to better predict when a plane might encounter turbulence or other patterns that could affect a flight; insurance companies managing recovery operations and claims around natural disasters; and utility companies monitoring for faults or preparing for severe weather strains on their systems.

Rometty said that the Weather Channel app’s 100 million users — and, in an estimation from Mary Glackin, the Weather Channel’s VP of business solutions, 300 million monthly active users when considering the wider network of places where the data gets used including Weather.com and Weather Underground — will be providing the data “with consent”. Data sourced from businesses will be coming from customers that are partners and are also likely to become users of the data.

That data in turn will be run through IBM’s Power9 supercomputers, the same ones used in the US Department of Energy’s Summit and Sierra  supercomputers, and modelled using suplementary data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The news represents a big step change for the Weather Company and for meteorology research, Glackin said in an interview.

“This is going to be the first significant implementation of GPUs at the Weather Company,” she told me. “The weather community has been slow to adopt to technology, but this is providing much improved performance for us, with higher resolutions and a much finer scale and focus of short-term forecasts.”

The new service of providing hyperlocal data also underscores an interesting turn for IBM as it turns its efforts to building the Weather Channel business into a more global operation, and one that helps deliver more business returns for IBM itself.

Glackin said the Weather Channel app was the most-downloaded weather app in India last year, underscoring how it, like other consumer apps, is seeing more growth outside of the US at the moment after already reaching market saturation in its home market.

Saturation, and some controversy. It’s not clear how the lawsuit in LA will play out, but the fact that it’s been filed definitely points to changing opinions and sensibilities when it comes to the use of personal data, and more generally how consumers and authorities are starting to think about how all that data that we are generating every day on our connected devices is getting used.

IBM is by far not the only company, nor the most vilified, when it comes to this issue, but at a time when the company is still trying to capitalise on the potential of how to commercialise the trove of information and customer connections in its wider business network, this will be something that will impact it as well.

Notably, Rometty closed off her keynote today at CES with a few parting words that reference that.

“As we work on these technologies, all that data that we talked about, that ownership, they belong to the user, and with their permission, we use that,” she said, adding, “These technologies also need to be open and explainable.”

Jan
08
2019
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IBM unveils its first commercial quantum computer

At CES, IBM today announced its first commercial quantum computer for use outside of the lab. The 20-qubit system combines into a single package the quantum and classical computing parts it takes to use a machine like this for research and business applications. That package, the IBM Q system, is still huge, of course, but it includes everything a company would need to get started with its quantum computing experiments, including all the machinery necessary to cool the quantum computing hardware.

While IBM describes it as the first fully integrated universal quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use, it’s worth stressing that a 20-qubit machine is nowhere near powerful enough for most of the commercial applications that people envision for a quantum computer with more qubits — and qubits that are useful for more than 100 microseconds. It’s no surprise then, that IBM stresses that this is a first attempt and that the systems are “designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle.” Right now, we’re not quite there yet, but the company also notes that these systems are upgradable (and easy to maintain).

“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research. “This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”

More than anything, though, IBM seems to be proud of the design of the Q systems. In a move that harkens back to Cray’s supercomputers with its expensive couches, IBM worked with design studios Map Project Office and Universal Design Studio, as well Goppion, the company that has built, among other things, the display cases that house the U.K.’s crown jewels and the Mona Lisa. IBM clearly thinks of the Q system as a piece of art and, indeed, the final result is quite stunning. It’s a nine-foot-tall and nine-foot-wide airtight box, with the quantum computing chandelier hanging in the middle, with all of the parts neatly hidden away.

If you want to buy yourself a quantum computer, you’ll have to work with IBM, though. It won’t be available with free two-day shipping on Amazon anytime soon.

In related news, IBM also announced the IBM Q Network, a partnership with ExxonMobil and research labs like CERN and Fermilab that aims to build a community that brings together the business and research interests to explore use cases for quantum computing. The organizations that partner with IBM will get access to its quantum software and cloud-based quantum computing systems.

CES 2019 coverage - TechCrunch

Dec
11
2018
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The Cloud Native Computing Foundation adds etcd to its open-source stable

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the open-source home of projects like Kubernetes and Vitess, today announced that its technical committee has voted to bring a new project on board. That project is etcd, the distributed key-value store that was first developed by CoreOS (now owned by Red Hat, which in turn will soon be owned by IBM). Red Hat has now contributed this project to the CNCF.

Etcd, which is written in Go, is already a major component of many Kubernetes deployments, where it functions as a source of truth for coordinating clusters and managing the state of the system. Other open-source projects that use etcd include Cloud Foundry, and companies that use it in production include Alibaba, ING, Pinterest, Uber, The New York Times and Nordstrom.

“Kubernetes and many other projects like Cloud Foundry depend on etcd for reliable data storage. We’re excited to have etcd join CNCF as an incubation project and look forward to cultivating its community by improving its technical documentation, governance and more,” said Chris Aniszczyk, COO of CNCF, in today’s announcement. “Etcd is a fantastic addition to our community of projects.”

Today, etcd has well over 450 contributors and nine maintainers from eight different companies. The fact that it ended up at the CNCF is only logical, given that the foundation is also the host of Kubernetes. With this, the CNCF now plays host to 17 projects that fall under its “incubated technologies” umbrella. In addition to etcd, these include OpenTracing, Fluentd, Linkerd, gRPC, CoreDNS, containerd, rkt, CNI, Jaeger, Notary, TUF, Vitess, NATS Helm, Rook and Harbor. Kubernetes, Prometheus and Envoy have already graduated from this incubation stage.

That’s a lot of projects for one foundation to manage, but the CNCF community is also extraordinarily large. This week alone about 8,000 developers are converging on Seattle for KubeCon/CloudNativeCon, the organization’s biggest event yet, to talk all things containers. It surely helps that the CNCF has managed to bring competitors like AWS, Microsoft, Google, IBM and Oracle under a single roof to collaboratively work on building these new technologies. There is a risk of losing focus here, though, something that happened to the OpenStack project when it went through a similar growth and hype phase. It’ll be interesting to see how the CNCF will manage this as it brings on more projects (with Istio, the increasingly popular service mesh, being a likely candidate for coming over to the CNCF as well).

Dec
07
2018
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IBM selling Lotus Notes/Domino business to HCL for $1.8B

IBM announced last night that it is selling the final components from its 1995 acquisition of Lotus to Indian firm HCL for $1.8 billion.

IBM paid $3.5 billion for Lotus back in the day. The big pieces here are Lotus Notes, Domino and Portal. These were a big part of IBM’s enterprise business for a long time, but last year Big Blue began to pull away, selling the development part to HCL, while maintaining control of sales and marketing.

This announcement marks the end of the line for IBM involvement. With the development of the platform out of its control, and in need of cash after spending $34 billion for Red Hat, perhaps IBM simply decided it no longer made sense to keep any part of this in-house.

As for HCL, it sees an opportunity to continue to build the Notes/Domino business, and it’s seizing it with this purchase. “The large-scale deployments of these products provide us with a great opportunity to reach and serve thousands of global enterprises across a wide range of industries and markets,” C Vijayakumar, president and CEO at HCL Technologies, said in a statement announcing the deal.

Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research who keeps close watch on the enterprise collaboration space, says the sale could represent a fresh start for software that IBM hasn’t really been paying close attention to for some time. “HCL is far more interested in Notes/Domino than IBM has been for a decade. They are investing heavily, trying to rejuvenate the brand,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

While this software may feel long in the tooth, Notes and Domino are still in use in many corners of the enterprise, and this is especially true in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and AP (Asia Pacific), Lepofsky said.

He added that IBM appears to be completely exiting the collaboration space with this sale. “It appears that IBM is done with collaboration, out of the game,” he said.

This move makes sense for IBM, which is moving in a different direction as it develops its cloud business. The Red Hat acquisition in October, in particular, shows that the company wants to embrace private and hybrid cloud deployments, and older software like Lotus Notes and Domino don’t really play a role in that world.

The deal, which is subject to regulatory approval processes, is expected to close in the middle of next year.

Nov
27
2018
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Red Hat acquires hybrid cloud data management service NooBaa

Red Hat is in the process of being acquired by IBM for a massive $34 billion, but that deal hasn’t closed yet and, in the meantime, Red Hat is still running independently and making its own acquisitions, too. As the company today announced, it has acquired Tel Aviv-based NooBaa, an early-stage startup that helps enterprises manage their data more easily and access their various data providers through a single API.

NooBaa’s technology makes it a good fit for Red Hat, which has recently emphasized its ability to help enterprise more effectively manage their hybrid and multicloud deployments. At its core, NooBaa is all about bringing together various data silos, which should make it a good fit in Red Hat’s portfolio. With OpenShift and the OpenShift Container Platform, as well as its Ceph Storage service, Red Hat already offers a range of hybrid cloud tools, after all.

“NooBaa’s technologies will augment our portfolio and strengthen our ability to meet the needs of developers in today’s hybrid and multicloud world,” writes Ranga Rangachari, the VP and general manager for storage and hyperconverged infrastructure at Red Hat, in today’s announcement. “We are thrilled to welcome a technical team of nine to the Red Hat family as we work together to further solidify Red Hat as a leading provider of open hybrid cloud technologies.”

While virtually all of Red Hat’s technology is open source, NooBaa’s code is not. The company says that it plans to open source NooBaa’s technology in due time, though the exact timeline has yet to be determined.

NooBaa was founded in 2013. The company has raised some venture funding from the likes of Jerusalem Venture Partners and OurCrowd, with a strategic investment from Akamai Capital thrown in for good measure. The company never disclosed the size of that round, though, and neither Red Hat nor NooBaa are disclosing the financial terms of the acquisition.

Oct
30
2018
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The hybrid cloud market just got a heck of a lot more compelling

Let’s start with a basic premise that the vast majority of the world’s workloads remain in private data centers. Cloud infrastructure vendors are working hard to shift those workloads, but technology always moves a lot slower than we think. That is the lens through which many cloud companies operate.

The idea that you operate both on prem and in the cloud with multiple vendors is the whole idea behind the notion of the hybrid cloud. It’s where companies like Microsoft, IBM, Dell and Oracle are placing their bets. These died-in-the-wool enterprise companies see their large customers making a slower slog to the cloud than you would imagine, and they want to provide them with the tools and technologies to manage across both worlds, while helping them shift when they are ready.

Cloud-native computing developed in part to provide a single management fabric across on prem and cloud, freeing IT from having two sets of tools and trying somehow to bridge the gap between the two worlds.

What every cloud vendor wants

Red Hat — you know, that company that was sold to IBM for $34 billion this week — has operated in this world. While most people think of the company as the one responsible for bringing Linux to the enterprise, over the last several years, it has been helping customers manage this transition and build applications that could live partly on prem and partly in the cloud.

As an example, it has built OpenShift, its version of Kubernetes. As CEO Jim Whitehurst told me last year, “Our hottest product is OpenShift. People talk about containers and they forget it’s a feature of Linux,” he said. That is an operating system that Red Hat knows a thing or two about.

With Red Hat in the fold, IBM can contend that being open source; they can build modern applications on top of open source tools and run them on IBM’s cloud or any of their competitors, a real hybrid approach.

Microsoft has a huge advantage here, of course, because it has a massive presence in the enterprise already. Many companies out there could be described as Microsoft shops, and for those companies moving from on prem Microsoft to cloud Microsoft represents a less daunting challenge than starting from scratch.

Oracle brings similar value with its core database products. Companies using Oracle databases — just about everyone — might find it easier to move that valuable data to Oracle’s cloud, although the numbers don’t suggest that’s necessarily happening (and Oracle has stopped breaking out its cloud revenue).

Dell, which spent $67 billion for EMC, making the Red Hat purchase pale by comparison, has been trying to pull together a hybrid solution by combining VMware, Pivotal and Dell/EMC hardware.

Cloud vendors reporting

You could argue that hybrid is a temporary state, that at some point, the vast majority of workloads will eventually be running in the cloud and the hybrid business as we know it today will continually shrink over time. We are certainly seeing cloud infrastructure revenue skyrocketing with no signs of slowing down as more workloads move to the cloud.

In their latest earnings reports, those who break out such things, the successful ones, reported growth in their cloud business. It’s important to note that these companies define cloud revenue in different ways, but you can see the trend is definitely up:

  • AWS reported revenue of $6.7 billion in revenue for the quarter, up from $4.58 billion the previous year.
  • Microsoft Intelligent Cloud, which incorporates things like Azure and server products and enterprise services, was at $8.6 billion, up from $6.9 billion.
  • IBM Technology Services and Cloud Platforms, which includes infrastructure services, technical support services and integration software reported revenue of $8.6 billion, up from $8.5 billion the previous year.
  • Others like Oracle and Google didn’t break out their cloud revenue.

Show me the money

All of this is to say, there is a lot of money on the table here and companies are moving more workloads at an increasingly rapid pace.  You might also have noticed that IBM’s growth is flat compared to the others. Yesterday in a call with analysts and press, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty projected that revenue for the hybrid cloud (however you define that) could reach $1 trillion by 2020. Whether that number is exaggerated or not, there is clearly a significant amount of business here, and IBM might see it as a way out of its revenue problems, especially if they can leverage consulting/services along with it.

There is probably so much business that there is room for more than one winner, but if you asked before Sunday if IBM had a shot in this mix against its formidable competitors, especially those born in the cloud like AWS and Google, most probably wouldn’t have given them much chance.

When Red Hat eventually joins forces with IBM, it at least gives their sales teams a compelling argument, one that could get them into the conversation — and that is probably why they were willing to spend so much money to get it. It puts them back in the game, and after years of struggling, that is something. And in the process, it has stirred up the hybrid cloud market in a way we didn’t see coming last week before this deal.

Oct
29
2018
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Assessing IBM’s $34 billion Red Hat acquisition

As you look at the $34 billion IBM-Red Hat deal announced yesterday, if you follow the enterprise closely, it seems like a good move, at least on its face. It could be years before we understand the true value of it for IBM (or lack thereof, depending on how it ultimately goes). The questions stands then, is this a savvy move, a desperate one or perhaps a bit of both. It turns out, it depends on whom you ask.

For starters, there is the sheer amount of money involved, a 63 percent premium on Friday’s closing price of just under $117 a share. IBM spent $190 a share, but as Ray Wang, founder and chief analyst at Constellation Research said, Red Hat didn’t necessarily want to be sold, so IBM had to overpay to get their company.

Wang sees cloud, Linux and security as the big drivers on IBM’s part. “IBM is doubling down on the cloud, but they also are going for a grab in Linux for their largest and most important open source communities and some of the newer tech on Red Hat security,” he told TechCrunch. He acknowledges that it’s a huge premium for the stock, but he believes IBM needs the M&A action to drive down customer acquisition costs and drive up cross sell.

Photo: Ron Miller

IBM is placing a big bet here says Dharmesh Thakker, general partner at Battery Ventures, believing it to be worth 30x its current earnings in the next 12 months. “Needless to say, the hybrid cloud opportunity that we have been working on the last few years, is real and IBM/Cisco/HP/Dell all want a piece of this action going forward as the $300B in datacenter spend gets dislocated by public and hybrid cloud vendors,” Thakker explained in a statement.

He believes this deal could actually trigger a new set of mega mergers between the traditional tech vendors and cloud native, container and DevOps companies over the next few months.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty was positively giddy at the prospects of a combined IBM-Red Hat in a call with analysts and press this morning, pointing out that only 20 percent of enterprise workloads have been moved to the cloud. She sees a big opportunity, one she projects to be worth $1 trillion by 2020. Keeping in mind you should take market projections with a grain of salt, this is undoubtedly a big market and one that Oracle and Microsoft have also targeted.

She said that Red Hat was a rare company indeed. “Red Hat on its own has been a high value company and has done a great job with strong growth, is highly profitable and generates cash. There are not many companies out there that look like that in this area,” Rometty said.

Slide: IBM

Dan Scholnick, general partner at Trinity Ventures, whose investments have included New Relic and Docker, was not terribly impressed with the deal, believing it smacked of desperation on IBM’s part.

“IBM is a declining business that somehow needs to become relevant in the cloud era. Red Hat is not the answer. Red Hat’s business centers around an operating system, which is a layer of the technology stack that has been completely commoditized by cloud. (If you use AWS, you can get Amazon’s OS for free, so why would you pay Red Hat?) Red Hat has NO story for cloud,” he claimed in a statement.

That might not be an entirely fair assessment. While Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a big part of the company’s revenue, it’s not the only piece. Over the last couple of years it has moved into Kubernetes and containerization and has grown the cloud native side of the business alongside RHEL.

In fact, Forrester analyst Dave Bartoletti sees the cloud native piece as being key here. “The combined company has a leading Kubernetes and container-based cloud-native development platform, and a much broader open source middleware and developer tools portfolio than either company separately. While any acquisition of this size will take time to play out, the combined company will be sure to reshape the open source and cloud platforms market for years to come,” he said.

Photo: IBM

Wang believes the deal could hinge on how long Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, who had led the company for over a decade, stays with the unit. According to IBM, they will maintain the Red Hat brand and operate it as an independent entity inside Big Blue. “If Whitehurst doesn’t stick around for awhile, the deal could go south,” he said. But the company could dangle the CEO job when Rometty decides to leave as incentive to stay.

Regardless, Wall Street was not entirely happy with IBM’s move with their stock down all day. Needless to say the 63 percent premium IBM paid for the stock has driven Red Hat higher today.

The deal must pass shareholder muster, but given the premium IBM has offered, it’s hard to believe they would turn it down. In addition, since these companies operate across the world, they are subject to the global regulatory approval process. They won’t officially come together until at least the second half of next year at the soonest. That’s when we might begin to learn whether this was a brilliant or desperate move by IBM.

Oct
29
2018
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IBM is betting the farm on Red Hat — and it better not mess up

Who expects a $34 billion deal involving two enterprise powerhouses to drop on a Sunday afternoon, but IBM and Red Hat surprised us yesterday when they pulled the trigger on a historically large deal.

IBM has been a poster child for a company moving through a painful transformation. As Box CEO (and IBM business partner) Aaron Levie put it on Twitter, sometimes a company has to make a bold move to push that kind of initiative forward:

They believe they can take their complex mix of infrastructure/software/platform services and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain and analytics, and blend all of that with Red Hat’s profitable fusion of enterprise open source tools, cloud native, hybrid cloud and a keen understanding of the enterprise.

As Jon Shieber pointed out yesterday, it was a tacit acknowledgement that company was not going to get the results it was hoping for with emerging technologies like Watson artificial intelligence. It needed something that translated more directly into sales.

Red Hat can be that enterprise sales engine. It already is a company on a $3 billion revenue run rate, and it has a goal of hitting $5 billion. While that’s somewhat small potatoes for a company like IBM that generates $19 billion a quarter, it represents a crucial addition.

That’s because in spite of its iffy earnings reports over the last five years, Synergy Research reported that IBM had 7 percent of the cloud infrastructure market in its most recent report, which it defines as Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and hosted private cloud. It is the latter that IBM is particularly good at.

The company has the pieces in place now and a decent amount of marketshare, but Red Hat gives it a much more solid hybrid cloud story to tell. They can potentially bridge that hosted private cloud business with their own public cloud (and presumably even those of their competitors) and use Red Hat as a cloud native and open source springboard, giving their sales teams a solid story to tell.

IBM already has a lot of enterprise credibility on its own, of course. It sells on top of many of the same open source tools as Red Hat, but it hasn’t been getting the sales and revenue momentum that Red Hat has enjoyed. If you combine the enormous IBM sales engine and their services business with that of Red Hat, you have the potential to crank this into a huge business.

Photo: Ron Mller

It’s worth noting that the deal needs to pass shareholder muster and clear global regulatory hurdles before they can combine the two organizations. IBM has predicted that it will take at least until the second half of next year to close this deal and it could take even longer.

IBM has to use that time wisely and well to make sure when they pull the trigger, these two companies blend as smoothly as possible across technology and culture. It’s never easy to make these mega deals work with so much money and pressure involved, but it is imperative that Big Blue not screw this up. This could very well represent its last best chance to right the ship once and for all.

Oct
28
2018
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Forget Watson, the Red Hat acquisition may be the thing that saves IBM

With its latest $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, IBM may have found something more elementary than “Watson” to save its flagging business.

Though the acquisition of Red Hat  is by no means a guaranteed victory for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing company that has had more downs than ups over the five years, it seems to be a better bet for “Big Blue” than an artificial intelligence program that was always more hype than reality.

Indeed, commentators are already noting that this may be a case where IBM finally hangs up the Watson hat and returns to the enterprise software and services business that has always been its core competency (albeit one that has been weighted far more heavily on consulting services — to the detriment of the company’s business).

Watson, the business division focused on artificial intelligence whose public claims were always more marketing than actually market-driven, has not performed as well as IBM had hoped and investors were losing their patience.

Critics — including analysts at the investment bank Jefferies (as early as one year ago) — were skeptical of Watson’s ability to deliver IBM from its business woes.

As we wrote at the time:

Jefferies pulls from an audit of a partnership between IBM Watson and MD Anderson as a case study for IBM’s broader problems scaling Watson. MD Anderson cut its ties with IBM after wasting $60 million on a Watson project that was ultimately deemed, “not ready for human investigational or clinical use.”

The MD Anderson nightmare doesn’t stand on its own. I regularly hear from startup founders in the AI space that their own financial services and biotech clients have had similar experiences working with IBM.

The narrative isn’t the product of any single malfunction, but rather the result of overhyped marketing, deficiencies in operating with deep learning and GPUs and intensive data preparation demands.

That’s not the only trouble IBM has had with Watson’s healthcare results. Earlier this year, the online medical journal Stat reported that Watson was giving clinicians recommendations for cancer treatments that were “unsafe and incorrect” — based on the training data it had received from the company’s own engineers and doctors at Sloan-Kettering who were working with the technology.

All of these woes were reflected in the company’s latest earnings call where it reported falling revenues primarily from the Cognitive Solutions business, which includes Watson’s artificial intelligence and supercomputing services. Though IBM chief financial officer pointed to “mid-to-high” single digit growth from Watson’s health business in the quarter, transaction processing software business fell by 8% and the company’s suite of hosted software services is basically an afterthought for business gravitating to Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon for cloud services.

To be sure, Watson is only one of the segments that IBM had been hoping to tap for its future growth; and while it was a huge investment area for the company, the company always had its eyes partly fixed on the cloud computing environment as it looked for areas of growth.

It’s this area of cloud computing where IBM hopes that Red Hat can help it gain ground.

“The acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market,” said Ginni Rometty, IBM Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, in a statement announcing the acquisition. “IBM will become the world’s number-one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses.”

The acquisition also puts an incredible amount of marketing power behind Red Hat’s various open source services business — giving all of those IBM project managers and consultants new projects to pitch and maybe juicing open source software adoption a bit more aggressively in the enterprise.

As Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst told TheStreet in September, “The big secular driver of Linux is that big data workloads run on Linux. AI workloads run on Linux. DevOps and those platforms, almost exclusively Linux,” he said. “So much of the net new workloads that are being built have an affinity for Linux.”

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