Sun + IBM = Open Clouds Ahead

Coming on the heels of the Cisco-BMC announcement, the news of an IBM/Sun merger and the simultaneous announcement of Sun’s Open Cloud Platform are not mutually exclusive events. They’re all part of the ongoing race to capture the Enterprise Cloud. The elephants are dancing.

The announcement continues the pattern of rapid marketplace adoption of Cloud Computing in general and that includes Web services API based storage access that began with Amazon and continued with Rackspace. This space is really heating up. More and more players are stepping up to challenge Amazon.

This tells us that IT hosting providers are running to get in the cloud storage and cloud computing game sooner rather than later. Having come from that space, I can tell you that this issue is top of mind in the hosting space. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and now Sun want to be the cloud for every customer.

The hosting industry is ideally positioned to deliver cloud computing and cloud storage solutions to their existing and future customers. Cloud Computing (see previous post on Cisco and BMC) is a service offering for which both hardware and software technology is rapidly developing. Management tools are also coming online from many vendors. The ability for the IT hosting industry to effectively compete will quickly be enabled by a new market segment, “Cloud Infrastructure Providers”. When you combine the availability of solutions with the effective service oriented relationships that IT hosters have enjoyed with their customers, a significant opportunity is emerging.

The first act in Cloud Computing is underway. Another character has entered the stage and received a round of applause. They lend additional credence, and a call for more standardization, and less vendor lock in. The key to the cloud will be ease of use, reliability, security, and of course, cost.

With so much negative news on business and our economy, I find that Cloud Computing, and its new technologies and opportunities are very exciting. This is how it has always felt in our industry, which we can change for the better, innovate like no one else, and create significant businesses and new opportunities.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the real story here: Sun’s open source vision and stated commitment to interoperability and its extension into Cloud Computing:

Ideally, users of cloud computing would be able to move their applications among a variety of standardized providers who offer open-source interfaces to common services. Today, most clouds are proprietary, and even where the components offered are open source, cloud operators cultivate significant lock-in through their underlying services, such as storage and databases.

Jonathan Schwartz explains on his blog:

This morning, Dave Douglas, the SVP of our Cloud Computing business, announced we’re building the Sun Cloud, atop open source platforms – from ZFS and Crossbow, to MySQL and Glassfish. With more than 4,000 developers hard at work on these enabling elements, and a twenty year history of network scale software innovation, we’re very comfortable with our technology lead. By building on open source, we’re also able to radically reduce our costs by avoiding proprietary storage and networking products.

Second, we announced the API’s and file formats for Sun’s Cloud will all be open, delivered under a Creative Commons License. That means developers can freely stitch our and their cloud services into mass market products, without fear of lock-in or litigation from the emerging proprietary cloud vendors.

Third, unlike our peers, we also announced our cloud will be available for deployment behind corporate firewalls – that we’ll commercialize our public cloud by instantiating it in private datacenters for those customers who can’t, due to regulation, security or business constraints, use a public cloud. We recognize that workloads subject to fiduciary duty or regulatory scrutiny won’t move to public clouds – if you can’t move to the cloud, we’ll move the cloud to you.

So where does IBM come in?

If you read about Schwartz’s three strategic imperatives, you learn they are as follows:

1. Technology Adoption

2. Commercial Innovation

3. Efficiently Connecting 1. and 2.

Notice too, that Schwartz is brutally honest about Sun’s challenges with imperative #3:

With Sun’s current products, we could be selling to twice the number of customers we currently serve – our products appeal to an audience far greater than our customer base. But we’re limited by our size – our sales and partner force has a tenth the resources of our biggest peers.


So let’s review, Sun’s doing well on 1. and 2. with widespread adoption of “free” products like MySQL and Open Solaris, but lacks the sales and service firepower to execute on 3..

Did anyone say “IBM Global Services”?

And now, with the Cloud being touted as the future of IT, we see why a merger between IBM and Sun becomes a value creating proposition for both concerns. Sun becomes the “low-cost” open-source provider, while IBM gets to feed its highly profitable (and nowadays hungry) professional services division.

Which leaves Microsoft’s Azure out in the cold. Small wonder that Bill Gates used to say that IBM, not Google, was Microsoft’s real competitor.

On a more technical level, the rationale behind this merger can be seen more clearly if you take a look at Troy Angrignon’s wonderful Cloud Computing Ecosystem Map v1.0. Scroll down and zoom into the map; the merger seems to make more sense at this level. When you combine IBM and Sun, the resulting “tessellation” of competencies is very impressive.

For more on this story, take a look at these columns by James Urquhart, Reuven Cohen, and Matt Asay.

As an end note, I’d like to state that this merger does not mean the race is over.

Far from it.

What we’re seeing is a new strategy developing across the IT industry. Hosting companies, MSPs, and SaaS providers will still have to provide clouds of their own to compete against Amazon, Microsoft and Google. There has always been room for a number of providers for hardware, software and services, competing on price, value, and support. No one player need dominate the cloud computing space. Choice and competition always drives value and innovation.

And that’s where we’d like to help.

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