Just what is Bluemix, and what could it mean for you? An interview with an IBMer reveals the answers.
Last week, I sat down with Adam Gunther, Director of Cloud Developers Services at IBM, to talk about IBM Bluemix. I told Adam I wasn’t a developer up front, but I wanted him to explain just exactly how my small-to-medium-sized business with an investment in on-premises infrastructure could really take advantage of Bluemix. I wasn’t disappointed.
Steve Pitcher: Give me an idea about Bluemix. Where did it come from, and what can it do for me?
Adam Gunther, IBM: I think we’re looking at technology problems through a unique lens. The catalyst around this was the renaissance of IBM design thinking. IBM has a long heritage in design thinking, going back to Thomas Watson. Connecting to people and problems and using technology as a means to help customers solve problems and move their businesses forward. Over time, we lost our way a little bit, or a little bit of that focus, and picked up a reputation as building solutions that were a bit “complex.” I mean, great technology and we solved great problems, but getting started with the technology was a challenge. There was a learning curve that went along with it.
It’s been about reconnecting with the idea of design and helping how we build software with solving customer problems. Bluemix was from the onset...we put this methodology up front. What’s really cool about Design 101 is always experiment. If you go into a room and ask people to “design me a vase,” you’ll get many variations of a vase. If you say, “Now design me a better experience for displaying flowers in the home,” you’re going to get something different and innovative. That’s where you get different ideas. Maybe I’d draw a TV with flowers coming out of receptacles on the sides of it. It’s kind of a dumb idea. I like to watch television, and my wife likes flowers. Maybe if I married the two, it’s a better way of displaying flowers and I get to watch more TV. You could debate the merits of it as an idea you could sell, but it’s innovative, and you can’t argue against that.
With regards to Bluemix, we asked ourselves, “What are we really trying to solve for customers?” If you think about it, it’s about innovation. Our customers, in particular the enterprise, are trying to respond to every start-up around the globe that is nipping at their heels and trying to out-innovate them. How do we help developers, whether in the enterprise or the small company, innovate faster to make their business work? Innovation at the end of the day starts with an idea. A developer sits down and he or she thinks of something uniquely interesting. That’s step one. The next step is they need to be able to share that idea with others and iterate together to figure out if the idea is any good. As they progress, they need to turn that idea into a real production application on a global scale. With Bluemix, we kept that as our core vision. Helping drive innovation. We describe Bluemix as an innovation platform.
I think that’s important. If you look at other cloud platforms, they’re trying to solve technology problems. Technology problems are interesting. Business problems are what we’re trying to solve, and technology is the tool we use to solve it.
I’ll talk about Bluemix in three dimensions.
One is the technology we bring to the developer. We bring a choice with consistency. Developers need different tools for different jobs, depending on the problem that they’re solving. They want a consistent experience.
The second is around hybrid and global operation, global scale, and security. We have start-ups that have been great references. Bluemix works for them. We’ve heard small companies say that they like some IBM tools, but can’t buy IBM because they’re too small. They don’t have the time to deploy and operate the software. With Bluemix, we bring a cloud consumption model. Pay for what you consume. As you start to grow, you get to use more. You don’t have to operate it, maintain it, upgrade it. That’s IBM’s problem. The barriers of entry are removed from IBM. We hear that in spades with the start-ups. The enterprise gets global scale from day one. They need security. They need connections back into the mainframe. We have a big investment in building the cloud for large customers, too.
The third is the services portfolio itself, from Watson to the Internet of Things. We have a unique set of tools that developers can [use to] create new and interesting things. That combined with the integration back to the mainframe is what helps them get an edge. That back end system…I don’t like to call it “legacy.” I think that’s a connotation of not being good. There’s a lot of value in those systems that I call “heritage.”
SP: Colin Parris, former VP of Power Systems, had a great quote about the word legacy: “Legacy just means proven.” It’s a great line.
AG: That’s where most companies’ value is. That’s where the data is. All that comes together with Bluemix.
Let me circle back to Bluemix evolution again. We started Bluemix with Cloud Foundry. We picked Cloud Foundry because of our commitment to open communities. It’s huge. We don’t develop code on an island. We work with Cloud Foundry, Docker, OpenStack, Spark. Open spawns innovation. It unites developers around the world and helps us all forward faster. That’s exciting. If I’m a developer and I’m using Cloud Foundry, I’m a couple keystrokes away from a world of developers to help me build on ideas and innovate some cool things.
We started it on the public cloud, not the datacenter. For us, we want people in the cloud and connecting to the datacenter. We had a lot of great success from day one.
SP: Tell me a little about adoption. Forgive me, but I’m trying to pick my spots to jump in here because you’re just firing off great information. I know IBM doesn’t historically give out a lot of numbers regarding customers, but I’m wondering what you can share. What’s the demographics look like? Enterprises vs. mom-and-pop shops or start-ups?
AG: I’ll answer that in two parts; then I’ll jump back into the evolution. The next pivot we made and why. It’s key for unlocking the cloud for the enterprise.
AG: Some statistics we can share...we have the world’s largest Cloud Foundry deployment. More than 120 API services for users in 179 countries. We’re onboarding 15,000 new users each week into the platform. That’s big. We have 120,000 applications being launched every month. We really had lofty goals and eclipsed them. It’s been a really fun ride to watch it go from whiteboards to what it is today.
Back to where I started, from idea to reality, and we started doing some customer surveys. What problems are we not helping you with? We heard a couple of common themes. Number one was something like “Cloud Foundry is great to build a new application, but it forces me to use new application development principles to make it work. I have a lot of applications around for a long time on a Power box, and I want to move it to the cloud, and we want your help in doing that.” We also heard over and over again, “We’re going to the cloud, and it will be an evolution over time. I have to build a cloud myself or hire someone to do it for me.”
What we did very quickly is expanded the aperture. We solved these problems for our customers. We brought in IBM Containers, which is powered by Docker. It gives them more control over what they do. We brought in virtual machines with OpenStack. We introduced an event-driven programming model called Bluemix OpenWhisk, which is the world’s fully open, event-driven programming model. Other vendors have gone the proprietary route, and we’ve gone open. Around hybrid, we took a cool approach. Bluemix comes in three flavors. Public, dedicated, and local. Local is unique in the industry. Public is where we started, and it’s lowest price because it’s a shared environment. We offer dedicated Bluemix, where a customer wants to be in the cloud but isn’t comfortable in a shared environment. They get their own copy of Bluemix, where we run in any of our datacenters around the world on SoftLayer. They get the same Bluemix environment, but it’s isolated for their company. A lot of the regulated areas are more comfortable in that environment. Then there’s local. Now local is very cool in that we run Bluemix on your hardware in your datacenter. We can run it just like another cloud node. The benefit to the customer is that we can provide them with a borderless cloud experience. To the developer, to the operator, it’s a single management plane. If I want to move a workload from Bluemix local to the cloud, it’s easy. Because we operate it like a cloud, we have a SLA, and we keep it up to date for you. You get all the patches, all the updates, and the same SLA as in the cloud. What’s really cool is that it enables the workloads to be portable because all Bluemix is in sync. You can run it in your data center today and move it to the cloud tomorrow. Over time, you can evolve with the platform and move workloads around. That’s attracting customers in the enterprise and helping futureproof their investment.
SP: I like the idea of running development in the cloud and running production in-house. But you can do vice versa or any variation.
AG: The hybrid capabilities are great. A bank we’re working with wants to build a mobile application. When customers come into their bank, through the mobile app the customers can give feedback. They want the customer service associates to respond to that. They wanted to put it in the cloud, but certain information just couldn’t go to the cloud because they weren’t comfortable with that. I think it was a DB2 application running on Power Systems. Using a combination of integration technology, their sensitive data stayed private on Bluemix local, and they also used Bluemix public because they wanted to use some of the Watson services to analyze the feedback. They wanted to build the mobile back end in the cloud as well. They saved money doing the non-confidential work in the cloud. Now a user goes into the bank, waits in line, and gives feedback on the app that the lines were too long. Watson identifies the customer had a negative experience based on the sentiment of the words. It goes back to Bluemix local. They do a lookup on the Power Systems machine regarding the customer account and find he’s a very big spender. It flags the customer service system to give the customer some loyalty points as a good gesture and then sends the customer a notification before he’s even out the door. That’s taking advantage of Watson and cognitive and analytics. It cross-references the systems of record and provides better customer service back.
It’s this kind of things we’re doing with Bluemix that lets customers do very innovative things.
About the author: Steve Pitcher