IBM Pushes Deeper into Hybrid Cloud, AI

IBM is continuing to double down on its growth strategy around hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) while at the same time reminding organizations of the broad reach of its portfolio and R&D efforts in areas such as processor design, quantum computing and even its decades-old mainframe business.

At its annual Think Conference this week, IBM officials unveiled a host of innovations around hybrid cloud and the Watson AI program that are designed to make AI more easily accessible to enterprises, modernize legacy applications so they can be used in hybrid cloud environments, and hone AI for particular industries.

In addition, IBM introduced new runtime software that will make it faster and easier for more developers to use quantum software. This comes a week after Big Blue announced that it has developed the industry’s first 2-nanometer process for developing better-performing and highly power-efficient chips, which could impact everything from personal mobile devices to large enterprise and cloud servers.

A Far-Reaching Company

It’s an indication that even as the company continues the reorganization efforts that began under CEO Ginni Rometty and accelerated under new CEO Arvind Krishna, IBM is still a company with a strong presence in a number of different areas.

While IBM’s focus is helping large companies – many of which have been customers for decades – make the transition to the cloud and AI, “they always have a few nuggets of things to let them show that, ‘Hey, we’re still IBM, don’t forget. We still do crazy stuff like the 2-nanometer chip and more work on quantum and making it easier for people to start to build apps that would run in a quantum environment,” Bob O’Donnell, principal analyst with TECHnalysis Research, told InternetNews.

“It’s an interesting company from that perspective because they’re still so big and they’re still all over the map and they’re at both extremes,” he added. “They’ve got all the newest stuff and then a lot of tools to take you from one place to the next. They are sort of unique in that regard because they have been around for so long.”

IBM executives have said the company’s growth strategy is around AI and hybrid cloud, underpinned by its $34 billion acquisition two years ago of Linux and open software giant Red Hat and products like the OpenShift Kubernetes and container platform. It’s beginning to pay off, with IBM in April reporting its best quarter in over two years. Cloud revenue in the quarter hit $6.5 billion, up 21 percent year-over-year, and $26.3 billion – a 19 percent increase – over the 12-month period.

AI Remains on Enterprise Radars

An IBM survey of IT professionals released at the Think Conference found that while the COVID-19 pandemic helped keep AI adoption among businesses flat – with almost a third of business reporting using AI – a third said their companies plan to invest in both skills and AI solutions over the next 12 months.

“I think everybody is going to adopt AI,” Krishna said during a CNN interview this week. “Why? How do you do better service for your end customers? How do you really make your employees more productive? How do you automate operations inside the enterprise? All of these are going to be use cases for AI to unlock that $16 trillion in global productivity that we all want by the end of the decade.”

Watson at Work

At the Think Conference, several of IBM’s announcements focused on Watson and AI. The vendor’s Cloud Pak for Data – platform managing data in the data center or cloud or at the edge – uses AI to answer customers’ questions up to eight times faster than before. The offering uses AutoSQL to automate how enterprises access, integrate and manage data without having to move it while helping to find hidden insights that help create more accurate AI-based predictions.

IBM introduced Watson Orchestrate, an interactive feature that uses an AI engine that automatically offers pre-packaged skills needed to run a task, lowering the bar of organizations to adopt AI. It’s designed for such offices as operations, sales and HR, uses such collaboration tools as Slack and email in natural language, and connects to such business applications as Salesforce, SAP and Workday. In addition, IBM Research launched Project CodeNet, an open-source dataset that includes 14 million code samples, 500 million lines of code and 55 programming languages to help transition legacy code bases to modern languages.

CVS Health worked with IBM Global Business Services to use Watson Assistant on IBM Public Cloud to leverage AI and natural language processing to help the healthcare company manage a 10-fold increase in calls as the United States rolled out its COVID-19 vaccination program, which includes offering vaccinations at CVS stores.

Bolstering the Hybrid Cloud

On the hybrid cloud side, IBM is adding Mono2Micro, an IBM AI-powered product, in its WebSphere Hybrid Edition to help businesses modernize their applications for hybrid clouds. Mono2Micro uses AI to analyze large enterprise applications to develop recommendations for adapting their move to the cloud.

This was another example of what TECHnalysis’ O’Donnell said was an effort by IBM to use its AI and automation capabilities to help businesses make the move to the cloud. Even though the industry has talked about the cloud for several years, only about 25 percent of corporate workloads are in the public cloud. That means that 75 percent are still in data centers, which is why hybrid cloud is so important.

“They’re leveraging AI in a way that should help the hybrid cloud efforts,” the analyst said. “At the end of the day, there’s some validity to the concept that it would be great if more applications could be turned into these cloud-native architectures and containerized because they’re much more flexible that way. They can adapt, they can scale more easily. There’s a lot of benefits to moving to [the cloud]. It’s all fine and good to say this is the way things should be, but you can’t just magically flip a switch and make everything [cloud-]native. IBM is trying to figure out the mechanisms and tools to do it.”

Making Quantum Easier

The same mindset is behind IBM’s development of the Qiskit Runtime Software, which is containerized and hosted in the hybrid cloud rather than having it run on a developer’s computer, reducing the latency that comes with code passing between a user’s computer and a cloud-based quantum computer. With improvements in both the software and processor performance, the runtime software will increase the speeds of quantum circuits – which are key building blocks of quantum algorithms – by 120 times. The runtime is part of Qiskit, an open-source framework for quantum computing for developers developed by IBM.

The Qiskit Runtime is in beta for some members of IBM’s Quantum Network.

The news from the conference follow a range of other announcements by IBM in recent weeks beyond the 2nm chip manufacturing process, including the Cloud Code Engine platform for enabling developers to deploy cloud-native applications without having to develop new skills, Spectrum Fusion – a containerized version of its general parallel file system (GPFS) and data protection software aimed at helping enterprises discover data throughout their distributed IT environment – and a partnership with Zscaler for helping organizations adopt secure access service edge (SASE) capabilities to improve network security and privacy, including at the edge.

Helping organizations embrace modern workloads, hybrid cloud and AI makes sense for IBM, O’Donnell said.

“One of the big reasons people haven’t been able to move to the cloud more rapidly is because they have a bunch of old apps that are really, really hard to modernize and containerize,” he said. “There’s so much work that has to be done in terms of figuring out ways to be able to move and update that code and being able to take new processes or wrap older applications in new mechanisms. [IBM has] a lot of very deep and very long-lasting relationships within a lot of traditional industries, such as manufacturing and finance and retail, healthcare. They’re not the dot-coms of the world, but they are the heart and soul of most of the economy, and IBM is working with them to figure out how to modernize things.”

Jeff Burt
Jeff Burt
Jeffrey Burt has been a journalist for more than three decades, the last 20-plus years covering technology. During more than 16 years with eWEEK, he covered everything from data center infrastructure and collaboration technology to AI, cloud, quantum computing and cybersecurity. A freelance journalist since 2017, his articles have appeared on such sites as eWEEK, eSecurity Planet, Enterprise Networking Planet, Enterprise Storage Forum, InternetNews, The Next Platform, ITPro Today, Channel Futures, Channelnomics, SecurityNow, and Data Breach Today.

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