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July 31, 2017updated 01 Jul 2022 6:43am

IBM on winning the beauty contest of Cloud 3.0

CBR's James Nunns sits down with IBM's UK cloud VP Helen Kelisky to discuss the core differentiators of Big Blue's cloud proposition.

By James Nunns

The cloud market is flooded with options from a cornucopia of different vendors, all promising an easy path to the promised land of cloud services.

Few vendors come close to truly meeting the ever changing demands and requirements of businesses, whether they are large or small. Those few that can offer this promised land of speed and agility, at a lower price than existing systems, are in high demand.

IBM is one of those few that can claim to offer an extensive portfolio of services across whatever deployment method the customer asks for.

Yes, the company has been facing its own struggles when transforming its own business, but that hasn’t stopped it from forging ahead with a three-fold cloud strategy.

Helen Kelisky, VP Cloud, UKI, has been responsible for the cloud business in the UK since its inception, the beginning of 2015, and has helped to oversee the company significantly increase its UK data centre footprint and cloud growth.

Helen Kelisky, VP Cloud UKI, IBM.

Kelisky told CBR that IBM had taken an approach of being “enterprise strong,” of offering a “data first architecture,” and of placing “cognitive at the core.”

Unlike some cloud vendors, IBM has opted to build an offering that’s fitting for all industries, tackling issues such as regulations while taking the decision to have geographic scale; the company now has 51 data centres operational in 20 countries.

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Then by offering a data first architecture, Kelisky said: “Really the whole data thing has taken on a life of its own now. If you look at data first architecture, we’ve really driven the European Union data protection code of conduct; we were one of the first to sign up to that, we signed up to that in March.

“That really tries to take all the policies around privacy and security that one step further to give clients, whatever industry, assurance that if you are moving your data from on premises to off premises, or they are just creating data in off premises, that it will be as secure if not more secure, that’s really important to us.”

The final piece of the puzzle is cognitive computing, mainly through the IBM Watson offering, which is helping to make data become one of the driving forces of cloud use.

Read more: Cloud Wars: UK becomes ground zero for AWS vs Microsoft vs Google vs IBM

“I’ve seen it certainly in my time go through three phases I think. The first one was about cost cutting, wanting to take cost out, and I think that’s still true today that’s what clients want to do. The second was about speed, how can we go faster, how can IT respond to the business needs more quickly, and cloud certainly enables them to do that,” said Kelisky.

The VP said that she’d almost call it “cloud 3.0” where it is now about how data can be mined and what can be done with it. This strategy is backed up by the locality of data that can be offered by IBM and the assurance that, “our customers data is their data, we are there to help our customers get as much out of their data as they can and gain new insights into their data to help them compete more effectively, because everyone is being disrupted.”

Recent deals with the likes of Lloyds Bank, thought to be in the region of £1.3bn, are a sign that Big Blue’s strategy is paying off, given that financial services organisations are notoriously risk adverse.

IBM Watson

IBM is also offering a solution that deals with the whole stack helps to make it a more rounded offering, “We’ve always believed it’s about the total stack, it’s not just about the IaaS, it’s about PaaS, digital services you can access and utilise with your data. We’ve always believed that. It’s very much a holistic approach rather than a piecemeal approach,” said Kelisky.

Whilst the likes of Amazon Web Services have built its empire on the back of start-ups before moving onto large enterprises, IBM has always had the image of being very much an enterprise IT company, one for the big businesses.

Asked if IBM has something of an image problem when it comes to this, Kelisky said: “It’s interesting you mention that, start-ups, or scale-ups, have come to us and we have helped them move to the cloud, so we’re not seeing that so much.

“I think the fact we are known by enterprises and often have been part of the IT history of a client, actually helps because they trust us. They’ve run their IT with IBM, they know that IBM takes security and data privacy very seriously, so it gives clients comfort when they are deciding, when they are running the beauty contest,” said Kelisky.

Read more: Lloyds Bank signs cloud mega deal with IBM

Since the inception of the cloud industry, pricing has been one of the top selling points. Over the past year this has come under question and even the cloud price wars seem to have settled down. Kelisky does think that pricing isn’t as big a factor for UK businesses, but it does still matter.

“I think we are in cloud 3.0 now, the first thing was cost saving, how much can I save. It’s all about the cost, the second was really about speed, how can we use cloud to move faster, now it’s all about data, how do we use cloud to get the competitive edge,” said Kelisky,

“I think there are lots of other things that our customers prospects consider before it comes down to price, but there is always a procurement department and there will always be a price discussion.”

If the analysts are right, and they are usually pretty accurate, then the cloud market still has plenty of growth to undergo before the battles for supremacy can have a line drawn under them. IBM’s pitching its scale and breadth of its services combined with data locality, partnerships, and cognitive at the core as its differentiators.

Whilst it’s cloud that will be the enabler, IBM is betting on the data being the holy grail that ensures its position at the top.

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