IBM has announced that it is effectively doubling its enterprise-class SoftLayer cloud footprint. This isn’t a trivial investment and, so far, IBM appears to be following best practices with SoftLayer and not screwing it up. Amazon is the clear target of this effort and must be feeling a little paranoid at the moment because even Twitter is moving to target it. At an enterprise level, IBM’s effort comes with an advantage in terms of security and compliance, but it’ll still have to match Amazon on ease of use and popularity if it wants to fully eclipse that competition.
SoftLayer was designed from the ground up to comply with corporate rules and policies. Its services are fully auditable and its prices are in line with industry averages. Now, through IBM, it assures your cloud projects won’t become cloud problems. Amazon came at this the other way; its services were first targeted at users and compliance wasn’t on the critical path. This allowed Amazon to get to market more quickly. Currently, it is the company to beat in this space, but most projects still occur outside of IT’s knowledge or control and are likely not compliant with IT policies as a result.
IBM is doubling the considerable footprint of software to love on this advantage and, from an IT perspective, should be favored, but it is the users who are driving much of this activity and they don’t appear to be listening to IT at all at the moment.
This was made obvious the other day when I took a briefing from Egnyte, a firm that provides a technology that runs on the client and assures compliance with cloud storage providers like Boxee. This firm was created after a number of CIOs put in place their own cloud storage services, only to find that they were still Boxee’s biggest customers because users weren’t using their companies’ compliant services. Egnyte’s solution sits on the client and assures that files are protected per policy even when sent and synced to a cloud service like SkyDrive. The keys can be revoked, removing access, and the files can then be tracked. The user just continues to do what they’ve always done with one additional compliance step.
Egnyte has been surprisingly successful with its offering because it is far easier to add a little compliance than it is to get users to change service use habits.
Embrace the User
Egnyte showcases what IBM will need to do in order to fully displace Amazon. It will need to embrace the user and provide a seamless, easy transition path for the users from their non-compliant cloud use to using IBM’s services. If it doesn’t, even if it sells IT on the SoftLayer solution, unless there is rigid enforcement, the users will continue to use the services they had been using and ignore IT’s direction. Given the number of data breaches occurring, areas where there will be rigid enforcement will certainly expand, but depending on that enforcement has proven unreliable in the past. IT, outside of verticals like finance and countries like Germany, just doesn’t have the enforcement authority it needs anymore. That means the user must be enticed to use a new service for it to be successful. And for IT, enticement isn’t exactly a known skill set.
Wrapping Up: I Think IBM Gets It
I think we are seeing progress toward this goal. First, IBM acquired SoftLayer to address the cloud opportunity, initially focusing on IBM’s compliance strengths because compliance is nearly impossible to retrofit to an existing service. Then, it expanded SoftLayer so that it was large enough to address an IBM-class opportunity. The next step should be to enhance the service to make it far more attractive to users as an Amazon (or other public cloud service) alternative. This is a journey. The recent announcement is simply a major step toward accomplishing that journey.