7 min

IBM has completed the acquisition of Red Hat, and now the company has announced its first strategic plans. The company is coming up with a renewed hybrid and multi-cloud strategy based on Red Hat technology and IBM solutions.

Now that the acquisition of Red Hat by IBM is a fact and the conversation about why is starting to get boring, IBM thought it was time to talk about the future. The company contacted us to talk about the renewed hybrid and multi-cloud strategy, a strategy based on technology and knowledge of both IBM and Red Hat. We spoke to Dennis Lauwers, Distinguished Engineer Hybrid Cloud Europe, at IBM.

IBM continues to focus on enterprise organizations

IBM’s primary strategy is not going to change with the acquisition of Red Hat, the company continues to focus on the absolute top end of the market: enterprise organizations that are looking for high-end solutions with strong guarantees. In practice, this means stricter SLAs and more redundancy than other cloud providers offer as standard.

However, the focus on the cloud is being changed. All cloud providers focus primarily on winning customers for their own cloud environment. This has worked well up to now, but we are now seeing a shift. For large organizations, there is not one perfect cloud provider, the cloud providers all develop their own technology, and one service is just a little bit better than another. In practice, enterprise organizations use multiple clouds and also do a lot of on-premise in their own data center.

These enterprise customers benefit much more from a hybrid and multi-cloud strategy. Something that IBM used to be able to offer only on the basis of VMWare technology, but not on a cloud-native basis. The acquisition of IBM has brought this within reach, and that is what it presents today.

Hybrid and multi-cloud based on OpenShift (Kubernetes)

IBM comes up with a hybrid multi-cloud platform based on Red Hat OpenShift and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) technology, says Lauwers. This makes it possible to run workloads where the customer wants them and manage them centrally from a single management console, a “single pane of glass”. All major cloud providers have built Kubernetes platforms in recent years, and in addition to their own deployments, they all support OpenShift. This allows IBM to offer containers that can run anywhere. A customer can, therefore, run his entire infrastructure in AWS and Azure with the help of this IBM solution. The customer chooses the environment, and the IBM Cloud is not required anywhere. The Multi Cloud Management platform is available as a managed service (SaaS) under the name Red Hat OpenShift on IBM Cloud, but also as a container to roll out in the desired environment.

From the new IBM hybrid and multi-cloud management console, containers can be deployed on Alibaba, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform or simply on-premise. However, an OpenShift container platform must then be realized on-premise. For customers who do not have this, IBM has now also developed OpenShift for IBM Systems. This makes it easy to add OpenShift to the IBM Z and LinuxOne mainframes.

Good to emphasize is that all containers run in the customer’s environment. The customer can connect his own AWS environment to the IBM management console. All data remains in the customer accounts.

IBM keeps it accessible with Cloud Paks

IBM has developed so-called Cloud Paks, which are Kubernetes containers designed for specific purposes:

  • Cloud Pak for Data; helps companies to analyze their data faster and easier, and provides an open and expandable architecture to virtualize data for AI.
  • Cloud Pak for Applications; helps companies to modernize, build, deploy and run applications. IBM customers in the financial sector reduced their development time by 84 percent.
  • Cloud Pak for Integration; helps companies to integrate and collaborate their applications, data, cloud services and APIs.
  • Cloud Pak for Automation; helps companies to automate their business processes, decisions and content.
  • Cloud Pak for Multicloud Management; provides companies with a clear platform that provides insights and can perform actions across different clouds. This makes management easier, but it can also improve matters such as automation, compliance and cost control.

In principle, everything can be converted to containers based on OpenShift and everything can be done where the customer wants it. This offers the customer an enormous amount of freedom because once the infrastructure and (mission-critical) applications have been converted to containers, management and optimization becomes much easier and scaling up can be done much faster. Furthermore, the customer has the freedom to easily move workloads and data to a region or datacenter required by latency or compliancy.

Migrate from VMs to containers

The challenge for companies that are enthusiastic about this lies mainly in the containerisation of the current infrastructure. IBM invests an enormous amount of time in this, and by now, the company has reached the point where many well-known standard applications can easily be converted from a VM to a container. For this purpose, the company has also developed applications that can do this automatically. This is followed by a category of applications that require a few modifications and, finally, the category with the challenging applications, but there are fewer and fewer, IBM assures us.

Kubernetes must be cloud-native

Kubernetes originated from the cloud, the flexibility and scalability are only possible on the basis of cloud technology. This also means that action is taken if a container is not properly constructed and shows deviant behaviour. The Kubernetes container is then often ‘cooled’ and restarted. If the container is not properly assembled, is not really cloud-native and is still equipped with all kinds of legacy components from a bare-metal or VM past, then this often goes wrong. Starting up a container then takes far too long, which means that car scaling does not work properly. That is why it is important that a transition to an OpenShift architecture is carried out properly. Red Hat is very good at this and IBM has the service and organization to achieve this on a large scale.

Virtual machines are not ignored, here too a multi-cloud route is available

Kubernetes containers have a great future, but on the other hand, not everyone is ready yet. Many companies are still a long way from being able or willing to say goodbye to all their virtual machines, and the question is also whether this will ever happen at all. We asked Lauwers how the IBM hybrid and multi-cloud strategy was linked to this.

Lauwers stated that IBM has a clear preference for a multi-client strategy based on containers. This is simply easier to manage and scale. At the same time, he acknowledges that virtual machines do not just disappear. IBM also has a multi-client strategy for this, and Red Hat has an exceptionally high level of technology in this area as well. Virtual machines can be built that are suitable for different cloud environments (hypervisors), but that are all identical, so that different clouds work with the same installation base, policies and security. IBM can also manage these virtual machines centrally via automation. Red Hat Ansible, among others, plays a major role here.

Red Hat, therefore, adds technology to IBM on all fronts in order to shape the hybrid and multi-cloud strategy, technology that IBM itself did not have in-house.

IBM continues to collaborate with VMware

In recent years IBM has worked closely with VMWare, making it possible to create a hybrid or multi-cloud environment. For example, between the IBM Cloud and an on-premise data center, or between IBM Cloud and VMware on AWS.

According to Lauwers, that doesn’t change anything. A huge number of companies have built their stack on the basis of VMware technology and just want to get on with it. They also want this stack to be available in the cloud, and IBM still offers an excellent solution for this. We emphasized that the competition is growing, now that Azure and Google Cloud also have a VMware offer. Lauwers said that it was not very impressed by this, because IBM distinguishes itself with its VMware offering by really focusing on enterprises with mission-critical workloads that want guarantees that other cloud providers do not offer by default. IBM is really at a higher level because of its collaboration with VMWare.

IBM Cloud remains active in hyperscaler market

When asked whether these announcements indirectly mean that the IBM Cloud will have a much smaller role, Lauwers resolutely replies: “IBM will continue to be active in the hyperscaler market, but the focus is really on the enterprise. Companies choose which cloud they want to be in, and the IBM Cloud is very suitable”. So IBM still wants to play a significant role in the public cloud, but will not fight for market share with AWS. So, IBM really specializes in the top end of the market, while AWS and Azure are trying to get both the enterprise and the SME on board.

Finally, Lauwers says that IBM’s SMEs are also welcome. At IBM, you can also create an account, fill in your credit card details and build an environment. However, IBM offers the necessary additional guarantees, making the IBM Cloud slightly more expensive than the competition. However, this is a conscious choice, and these guarantees are very important for large companies.

Finally, we asked whether IBM had considered partnering with other hyperscalers to link the data centers, so that the egress costs (outgoing traffic from the cloud) would disappear. Azure and Oracle recently announced this, but as far as Lauwers is aware, there are no ongoing discussions about this.