IBM SmartCloud Application Services [EOL] Review

IBM SmartCloud Application Services: PaaS in many shapes and formats

At its European Analyst event held in Madrid last week, IBM unveiled its latest developments around its Platform as a Service offering. IBM SmartCloud Application Services, as it is branded, marks a bit more than one year since its launch in a beta variant.

IBM SmartCloud Application Services has two flavors for its PaaS offering:

- SmartCloud Enterprise, which addresses mostly the hybrid and public cloud model and addresses the mid-market
- SmartCloud Enterprise+, which focuses on single tenant, dedicated platforms for large clients

PAC believes that the lengthy / heavy branding of IBM’s Cloud platform may be a bit confusing for its customers, even for the most Cloud-educated of them. IBM SmartCloud Application Services with the option for SmartCloud Enterprise or SmartCloud Enteprise+ may puzzle potential clients. This comes in the context of the broader SmartCloud branding. For instance, IBM SmartCloud Foundation focuses on selling appliances and products/technologies (e.g. IBM PureSystems) that enable private and hybrid cloud environments, while IBM SmartCloud Services (within which IBM SmartCloud Application Services is part of) focuses on managed cloud services.

It is questionable how well the prospects will remember all of IBM’s brandings and how much portfolio confusion that may create with the prospects, given the relatively close naming of distinct classes and sub-classes of its offerings, and particularly considering the still widespread lack of education in the marketplace around IaaS and PaaS.

It remains to be seen how easily the market will interpret and digest IBM’s Cloud portfolio and what will be the traction of the sales teams trying to push the different offerings. Obviously, one can debate that naming matters less since the IBM PaaS sale is about communicating directly with the client. Such assumption is valid mostly when pushing the PaaS directly, yet it may be questionable in the case of IBM’s channel strategy (i.e. the public PaaS offer).

While IBM’s offering seems complex and not straightforward when compared to the ones of fast-emerging competitors like Amazon Web Services and Google Compute Engine / Google Cloud Platform, IBM’s strength is undoubtedly residing in its customer trust and intimacy built with the upper mid-market and large clients throughout the decades. When it comes to managing complexities, security, richness of the middleware stack (hence development environment options), application deployment and delivery methodologies, IBM’s lead is massive.

Even in relation to traditional competitors (e.g. Oracle, Microsoft, HP) that look to equally evolve into the PaaS market, IBM defines two points of differentiation for its SmartCloud Application Services:

- The DevOps methodology: it stems from the Rational Software group and it focuses on integration and collaboration between the development team and the operations team in order to smoothen operations throughout the application lifecycle

- Built-in Patterns of Expertise: this major differentiation point is shared with the PureSystems portfolio, the hybrid offering from IBM which provides pre-configured/ pre-defined architectures and components for application development environments

Largely supported through the pre-configured patterns from PureSystems, IBM is readying its SmartCloud Application Services beyond the more conventional application workloads (e.g. SAP), offering pre-configured Java-derived platform environments for Cloud native programming models (e.g. PHP, Ruby on Rail).

Nevertheless, the SmartCloud Application Services is clearly focused to take advantage of the SAP hosting opportunity out there, especially given IBM’s industrialization around SAP environments. For instance, with the PaaS offering, IBM promises to cut the time for new SAP system configurations from 1-2 weeks down to roughly one day or for SAP Database Refresh from 2-3 days to about half a day.

PAC believes that IBM has a distinct advantage in positioning for opportunities around SAP PaaS environments since the company has been one of the largest SAP hosting providers at global level. SAP application lifecycle via PaaS is one of the areas that IBM can confidently approach since it has been one of the few large infrastructure hosting providers with a deep understanding of the SAP domain.

IBM runs 8 Points of Delivery (out of which two in Europe: 1 in Ehningen and 1 in Montpelier) for its SmartCloud Application Services at present and is planning to accelerate to 15 the number of worldwide Data Centers capable to exploit this service in 2013 (e.g. 1 in Barcelona, 1 in the UK).

Evidently, IBM’s major challenge for its SmartCloud Application Services offering is to attract the ecosystems on the platform. The adoption will critically depend on IBM’s ability to convince SIs to hop on the platform. IBM has put up three reference names of early adopter SIs/ISVs that have started to operate on the platform: CLD Partners, Haddon Hill Group and Onetree Solutions.

Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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