IBM z13 mainframe at the 2015 CeBIT technology trade fair in Hanover Sean Gallup/Getty Images
IBM z13 mainframe at the 2015 CeBIT technology trade fair in Hanover

A VMworld Anatomy of an IBM Cloud Migration

IBM's biggest asset in courting the enterprise market may be its relationships, many of which go back more than half a century.

Like many vendors at VMworld last week, IBM Cloud's purpose at the event was to assure potential users that it's ready to go for those who want to add its service to pre-existing VMware workloads.

"We have 1,700 clients now that have moved to VMware on IBM Cloud," Don Boulia, general manager of Big Blue's cloud developer services, told Data Center Knowledge in an interview. VMware's introduction of HCX application mobility technology last year has simplified the migration process, and IBM has a set of migration services of its own to help customers move from on-premises data centers to its cloud facilities.

Although IBM Cloud is the third largest public cloud provider, it often gets short shrift from the tech media, which typically include marginally smaller Google Cloud Platform as the third of the "big three" cloud players, designating IBM the also-ran status. That doesn't seem to bother Boulia, who laughed and shrugged when asked about IBM Cloud not getting enough credit from the press.

"I think there's a lot of focus on what I'll call 'cloud-in,' which is net new cloud applications, and we have that set of services as well," he said. "But to be quite honest, with our customer base it's all enterprises, and what I would call the 'enterprise-out' is really the motion that we see much more traction on, and, frankly, where we can differentiate as well.

"The VMware offering we have is exactly for that. When people start to look at moving some of their franchise out to the cloud, the first step is to take what you have and start to move it there. But then how do you augment? How do you get more value out of it? Those are probably less sexy from a headline perspective, but they're the stuff that moves the needle, right?"

IBM is in a unique position as it stands in the queue of vendors and service providers seeking a slice of the enterprise pie. It's just about the oldest player in the line and has relationships with some companies that go back to the 1960s or earlier. It's not surprising, then, that it's in agreement with the vendors courting the enterprise market who are supporting the hybrid approach, where enterprises reach out to the cloud while keeping their on-prem infrastructure intact.

"Typically there's a mix of things that stay on-prem versus things that go to the cloud," Boulia said. "Use case-wise, we see DR [disaster recovery] and backup as kind of early examples, but then expansion of capacity becomes sort of the next thing. You know, everybody's motivated to not buy more servers for their own on-prem data center, so that's usually where the expansion piece comes from."

After that customers generally begin getting interested in leveraging higher-level cloud services, which in IBM's case could involve Watson, blockchain, or services designed for the Internet of Things and edge computing.

"App modernization is kind of the next piece of it," he said, "so we're doing more to connect VMware and things that are on the cloud securely to our cloud services."

Much of this involves working at the network layer, which can get a bit tricky since networks tend to be unique and not out-of-the-box simple. Or, as Boulia put it, "People are along different parts of the journey of moving to something like a software-defined network."

"As you move forward the compute and the storage are pretty standard, but being able to map what enterprises are doing from a network perspective as they move to the cloud is part of what helps the migration be more smooth," he said. "Once they're there, then that network integration is also how we get out to these other services."

Like at every other tech conference these days, containers were a buzzword at this year's VMworld, with VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger going so far as to point out that "Google and all major clouds run their containers in VMs" as a way of dismissing the thought that the company's core technology had reached its peak. As VMware moves to further embrace Kubernetes and the rest of that stack, IBM Cloud is along for the ride.

"We have a container service on our cloud," Boulia said. "A lot of our own services are built on containers to begin with, so our Watson services, our blockchain services all leverage that. So, as VMware does more to integrate container technologies, we're working with them to make sure there's a smooth connection between VMware assets on the IBM cloud and the rest of our services."

Again, many of those making the trip to the cloud with IBM's help have been working with Big Blue since the days when a single computer with magnetic tape storage could fill an entire room.

"We've got people using systems they put in place in the 60s," Boulia said. "I was just talking with somebody yesterday, an airline that still uses a 50-plus-year-old system. From a cost-per-transaction and reliability [perspective], you can't touch the number of nines you can get on that, and that's why it's still there.

"What's interesting is you can front a lot of that stuff with APIs these days. You can use the cloud, as an example, to deliver all those customer experiences via that app we all use if we're frequent fliers, which eventually has to access that backend data. Almost invariably, that backend data is still sitting in big iron somewhere."

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