IBM’s Sebastian Krause oversees a team of some 3,000 as General Manager of IBM Cloud in Europe. A smartly dressed, 24-year veteran of the company working out of IBM’s Madrid offices, he’s keen to refute Computer Business Review’s opener as we sit down to talk in London: that IBM Cloud seems to be a perennial “also-ran” amid ferocious competition between AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.
As he sees it, the easy public cloud migrations have already happened and the remaining opportunity – one of sensitive workloads, complex existing legacy infrastructures and hybrid on-premises and cloud environments (public or private) – is in IBM’s sweet spot; something that would explain a high profile flurry of deals for the company this year: from Santander to Juniper Networks, or BNP Paribas.
“We believe we are a highly differentiated in an enterprise world” he says.
“I would say that over the past couple of years the easy things have been done for companies; i.e. whatever they put on the cloud has been done. Now the focus is on mission critical applications, which are being put onto a hybrid cloud architecture.”
“[Our] target group in the market when it comes to enterprises [is] specifically in certain industries which are highly regulated; such as the financial industry; insurance; government; to a degree telecommunications; even retail.”
And that, he suggests, is a ball game that IBM plays at another level to other cloud providers.
“Customers are turning to us and – instead of saying ‘I want to have my additional storage on a public cloud’ – are realising that there are very few companies that understand the ways in which cloud is really an architectural discussion; one that IBM understands.”
Public Cloud: Not Simply a “Beautiful New World”, but Potentially Part of One…
“In one company you could have a legacy application that might have been written 40 years ago in COBOL which is still running perfectly and it doesn’t have to be touched because you don’t have any new requirements on functionality, and it might be a batch job that is being run on it. On the other hand if in the same company you might need a new client experience at the front-end that is seamless, or refactored middleware to integrate a containerised database rather than a legacy database.”
He fleshes out the thought: “The initial promise of cloud was you bring everything to the public cloud: you re-write it and then you are in this beautiful new world.”
“Often this is not economically feasible. It is a huge investment to rewrite all these applications you have acquired over the last 10 to 15 years… So we have different technologies depending on the status of your application. We can do technology lift and shift: so you just take the application ‘as it is’ and you bring it on a server which now runs in the cloud. Yes we are also rewriting code here, but this is really the enterprise conversation with a client. Or you refactor middleware… We understand the challenges and we are proud of speaking the client’s language, knowing the issues.”
Multicloud (But Not By Accident)
IBM Cloud’s focus, Sebastian Krause says, is based around five pillars (“hybrid, multi, open, secure, managed”), and he emphasises that the company is providing more and more “platforms” to clients, rather than products, with the aim of providing a platform that they can leverage for multiple purposes in that environment.
“Multicloud is a big thing for us” he adds. “A lot of clients say they are multicloud, but they are multicloud by accident: one line of business was using one provider, etc.; the pieces are all over the place. When we talk about multicloud, we are talking about ‘one management’ over multiple clouds: so with IBM you can manage the containers on Amazon, on Microsoft, in your data centre… and we see high demand for this.”
(The company has seemingly made less headway in getting these capabilities into the public domain than others like Google, whose recent “Anthos” announcement drew a notable flurry of industry interest, as enterprise recognition of the flexibility and capabilities of a container-based approach continue to dawn…)
We touch on skills, security and more: Krause is relentless on-message and upbeat.
We dig a little deeper: what does the future hold for IBM Cloud. What excites him?
The answer is somewhat unexpected but the enthusiasm is genuine: “We now have our first big clients doing containers at the edge of the enterprise. The client has one centralised data centre but maybe some smaller footprints around the globe; you know 50, 60 locations where they don’t have dedicated IT staff, but still want to push the applications there.”
“Containers at the edge of the cloud are something we putting a lot of attention on: expect some announcements in the second half.”
Why? What are the benefits?
“The benefits are autonomy: sometimes these containers at the edge of the network do not have network connectivity all the time. Think about a truck, think about an oil rig. You have an application there but you cannot guarantee the connectivity. So you can run the applications there, update when there is connectivity… and the containers can run autonomously, collecting data from sensors for example, without the link to the back-end.”
“Pushing containers closer to business processes” he says. “This is an area that is going to be more and more interesting…”