• 08/15/2013
    9:00 AM
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IBM's Cloud Business: Ex-Employee Divulges Shortfalls

Confidential IBM documents reveal the company's struggles to meet its cloud forecasts, as the SEC and Wall Street cast a skeptical eye.
Yet another internal IBM document outlines gaps in the company's cloud functionality compared with AWS's. The functional gaps include a lack of options comparable to Amazon Elastic Bean Stalk application deployment and management capabilities, Amazon Elastic MapReduce data processing capabilities, the DynamoDB cloud-based NoSQL database and the Amazon Redshift cloud-based data warehousing service.

Those are just five of the more than 20 gaps cited in the document, most of which exist because "the nature of Amazon's business and infrastructure required it to lead in cloud innovation. IBM's didn't," Babcock observes. While Amazon was steadily building AWS over the last six years, he says, "IBM did not extensively develop middleware for the cloud that aids application deployment and management. It did not develop a native NoSQL approach to data management. And IBM clearly missed the boat on cloud-based data warehousing, a spot where it could have excelled."

These differences might well explain why Amazon won a four-year, $600 million cloud contract with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in February after a bakeoff against IBM. Amazon's bid was $54 million higher than IBM's, a point that led to an IBM protest and a General Accounting Office review that's still underway. Given these gaps, it's easy to imagine that Amazon's bid included a range of ready-to-use services that were just not available from IBM and that would have to be developed or sourced from a third party if required.

On Aug. 14, however, IBM announced it had won a $1 billion, ten-year cloud contract with the Department of the Interior. In this case, IBM's strengths in SAP application hosting and Unix, now available on the IBM AIX Cloud, were cited as important factors in the win. IBM is well positioned to bring legacy systems into the cloud.

Some Transparency Of Our Own

IBM didn't provide answers to a number of questions InformationWeek presented with key facts from the hundreds of pages of documentation shared by the former employee. The depth, detail, profusion of company acronyms, use of company presentation formats and citation of company locations and executive names strongly suggest that the documents are authentic.

The former employee, who says he/she was "resource actioned," says the motivation for sharing the documents is "protecting customers and ex-colleagues by getting the truth out," and the reason for doing so anonymously is fear of losing outstanding severance payments. InformationWeek's motivation is to shed light on the state of cloud competition not only with the likes of Amazon, but also Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

As InformationWeek has reported extensively, HP, Microsoft, Google and others have been playing catch-up with Amazon.

IBM's $2 billion June acquisition of SoftLayer provides fresh evidence that the cloud assets and capabilities the company had before that deal weren't enough. SoftLayer data centers, its stack and its people will become "a foundation unit" in a new IBM Cloud Services division incorporating SoftLayer and SmartCloud Enterprise.

Clearly, IBM isn't simply trying to mimic AWS offerings. With SoftLayer it's trying to cater to enterprise customers. Where AWS virtualizes servers in the public cloud, SoftLayer offers the option of dedicated servers for enterprise clients that have requirements to run on the bare metal.

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