In a series of sweeping announcements, IBM Corp. today made several of its boldest hybrid cloud computing moves to date. The steps include IT management milestones, new Watson-powered offerings, and customer wins -- all of which are designed to differentiate IBM from traditional, commodity public clouds like Amazon Web Services.

Among today's announcements:

  • Several hybrid cloud moves involving IBM BlueMix and SoftLayer
  • New and expanded partnerships with CSC and Tech Mahindra
  • Another customer win, this time involving Turner Broadcasting

Hybrid Clouds

IBM's hybrid cloud strategy strives to move compute power to data -- or data to compute power -- depending on specific customer needs. The idea is to keep information secure in the most ideal location, whether on premises or off premises. The other big goal is to help customers navigate and mitigate so-called data sprawl -- especially as customers increasingly adopt a mix of SaaS applications and services.

The effort includes new cloud data centers in Australia, Canada, India and Italy. Plus, strategic partnerships with global systems integrators such as CSC and Tech Mahindra -- each of which seeks to bolster IBM's BlueMix hybrid cloud offerings and deployments.

True believers apparently include Turner Broadcasting, which is leaning on IBM's hybrid cloud offerings for digital distribution capabilities in Latin America.

Calling the Shots

Most of the announcements lead back to IBM Senior VP Robert LeBlanc -- who now oversees IBM's cloud strategy. LeBlanc won the position over Lance Crosby, the SoftLayer founder who recently exited IBM.

"Today, we are launching a new class of cloud innovations that extend open standards capabilities for the enterprise. This will help break down the barriers between clouds and on premise IT systems, providing clients with control, visibility and security as they utilize the public clouds,” said LeBlanc in a prepared statement. "Data location across an ever growing number of clouds is an increasing concern for customers and we are unveiling new portability and developer services to make this easier to manage.”

Management Tools

IBM also pointed to a range of offerings that strive to enhance control, visibility and security across hybrid clouds. The efforts include:

  • IBM DataWorks: New, intuitive tooling and experience to find, refine, enrich and deliver trusted data. This allows developers to subdivide and manipulate data sets from the treasure trove of public and private data.
  • Collaborative Operations: Enhanced visibility and control of your hybrid environments with a single, end-to-end view
  • Orchestration: Available as a service enabling management across hybrid environments that is the largest federated orchestration library in the industry
  • Security: New features that protect the most vital data and applications using analytics across the enterprise, public and private clouds and mobile devices

The Developer Story

Dig a little deeper, and you'll also see new efforts to win app developers and ISVs (independent software vendors) into the IBM hybrid cloud ecosystem.

Those efforts include:

  • New tools, resources, training materials and code to speed the development and delivery of an entirely new class of cognitive computing apps and services powered by Watson.
  • Watson Zone: A new center of information and capabilities on Bluemix that bring together developers, partners, customers and cognitive services from Watson including sample code, training resources and use cases to help inspire and guide users.
  • Watson Personality Insights Service: The first beta service to become generally available for commercial use via Bluemix. The Watson Personality Insights service (formerly known as User Modeling during beta) allows developers to integrate new cognitive capabilities that can analyze trends and patterns in diverse, high volume social media and other public data streams.
  • New Beta Watson Services: New beta Watson services added to Bluemix including: Speech to Text, Text to Speech, Visual Recognition, Concept Insights and Tradeoff Analytics. These services are available free of charge to help developers explore potential use cases. IBM says more than 5,000 partners have built more than 6,000 apps using those and other tools last year.
  • IBM Enterprise Containers: Help developers rapidly build and deliver applications by extending native Linux containers with Docker APIs to provide enterprise – class visibility, control and security as well as an added level of automation.
  • Secure Passport Gateway: Allows self-service to developers to securely connect data and services to Bluemix in minutes through a Passport service that keeps IT in control.
  • API Harmony: Find an API match for your application using the world’s largest knowledge base of APIs
  • Bluemix Local: Extends Bluemix into a customer's data center with borderless visibility and management across Bluemix environments (public, dedicated, and local).

Bigger IBM Picture

IBM's aggressive hybrid cloud push also comes with considerable risk. Somewhat late to the cloud game, IBM every few weeks now seems to announce a series of major cloud milestones. The news has come so fast since around mid-2014, that customers, developers and data scientists could fail to understand how all the piece parts fit together.

Still, IBM's overall cloud story appears dramatically stronger today vs. a year ago, when the company was still busy absorbing the SoftLayer buyout while also pushing many traditional enterprise applications into the SaaS world.

Although IBM's overall revenues have been flat or declined over the past 11 quarters, IBM in early 2015 said total cloud revenues topped $7 billion and as-a-service run rates topped $3.5 billion at the time. At the same time, IBM has pushed a hybrid cloud message -- trying to distance itself from direct pure public cloud comparisons vs. Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, both of which continue to grow faster than IBM in that particular market segment.

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