In an application economy, enterprises and individuals dream of innovations that can make app building a cake walk. With cloud-based app development taking off, we are inching closer to this dream. BlueMix is one such app building cloud platform by IBM that helps individual and corporate developers to build and deploy applications easily using the cloud. Launched globally in February 2014 and now with a user base of 60,000 independent developers in India, BlueMix is an integral part of IBM’s cloud strategy. We get to know more in an interaction with Steve Robinson, GM, Cloud Platform Services, IBM Software Group. Excerpts
Tell us more about BlueMix. How does it really work?
Part of what we do with BlueMix is consumable composition of applications. We take our services as the building blocks to quickly create a skeleton of the application and bring in key services to that application.
What this environment does for you is tackle some of the major challenges that have hindered application developers for years. Typically when building a new platform you got to allocate hardware. You got to buy and deploy very expensive, complex middleware, you have to work with centralized organizations, and then you have to write your own code and test it. Many times this entire cycle takes a year or longer. So with public cloud you get all the deployment, all the middleware automatically.
Compared to traditional programming that is an intensive, very expensive, long process what we are doing with the public cloud is dramatically quickly deployed, there is no hardware to buy. All the services that you require are already there in a consumable fashion. So I can start building my application very quickly. What we are doing with BlueMix is to get IBM quickly into the public cloud domain. It is built on top of SoftLayer which is our public cloud infrastructure. So anything we do on BlueMix is automatically deployed on SoftLayer. We also based it on open standards. When we launched BlueMix we also announced the Cloud Foundry Foundation. It is probably one of the most successful products in IBM for a long time now.
This is probably our first initiative what we have done till date is help you build codes that you run in your data centers, this is really our first initiative on building a full platform that allows and enables you to build and deploy in the form of cloud. It is also a significant transformation meaning that if you look at it IBM provides a platform to build these composable applications but it also builds the services that can be plugged in. The transformation that it entails is the fact that you have a platform that lets people build interesting applications. But both IBM and third parties have the opportunity to put in services that can be used by whole bunch of people.
How does BlueMix help you differentiate in the cloud space?
The differentiation shows up in three different ways. One is we are building a complete cloud stack. BlueMix is one component as well as SoftLayer and maybe infrastructure is also one. Our competitors only does is the platform that is independent of the underlying platform so we believe we have the total stack all the way through. Look at IBM’s public cloud strategy that has worked in three areas. First is our acquisition an year back of SoftLayer which is a tremendous infrastructure as a service world class capability. Secondly we invested 1.2B dollars to expand the data center of SoftLayer across the globe.
In IBM we own those datacentres, we own the hardware of our public cloud infrastructures, many of our competitors simply leases capacity from other datacentres. We own it all the way. Then we have BlueMix on top. So that fully integrated stack is very unique and one of the key things that we have.
The second thing that is different for us is the content. We have build middleware for around 30-40 years. So enterprise Customers know us for our DB2, they know what’s for the transaction environment etc. So our unique content will be another differentiator.
The final thing that we are looking at making unique is the overall experience of the developer on the platform. Beyond the services we also have a full suite of DevOps tools as well where we build an application, or we run an application. We also have full system management capabilities where we can do monitoring and analytics of the application once it is up and running as well.
So the total stack, unique content, integrated experience I think is the platform that nobody else has.
If we also look at the end-to-end life cycles, what excites customers is the ability to do security scans before they deploy the app. In many cases an application is built and deployed and then you check it is secured or not and usually it is not. So being able to build that into the process that is the importance of an end-to-end process. Another thing unique from an IBM perspective is not only the quality of the middleware but we are focused on integration middleware. One of the key areas we focus on is how do you integrate cloud capabilities back into the enterprise. Because we look at many companies that have information about their customers and their buying and everything within the company. How do you connect some of those capabilities for say, mobile push or targeted marketing campaigns? It is not about everything on the cloud or everything on premise, it is how you connect those environments. We have done quite a bit of that for many years and many of our customers are seeing and want that behaviour as well. So that is very differentiating and very strong capability.
How challenging is it to integrate BlueMix into existing IT ecosystem?
The nice thing I think is the little boundary there is to get going with BlueMix. You can actually go to IBM BlueMix 30 day’s free trial, you can start exploring and working on the platform automatically. There is growing trend for hybrid cloud where we try to tie the public cloud activity with the on premise activity and we will connectors to bridge between those walls.
But we are seeing a new class of applications, we are seeing the use for extending existing applications, we are also seeing a rise in hybrid scenarios as well. So it’s very easy to get up and going with it.
Start up in India is booming and lot of app development is happening on the cloud? What are the trends that you see here?
We are seeing almost all new developments being done on the cloud. I think for small start ups the challenge is always to set up the infrastructure and with the public cloud technology they almost by default putting everything on the public cloud. It lets them consume technology on a step by step basis and there is no cost to get going (Opex) and expands with them as the start-up continues to grow.
Some of the things we have started doing at IBM is we have started putting a lot of focus on entrepreneurial community. We are active participants of the community. The start up community actually thrives on sharing information with each other. Most of them have their own curriculum of how they teach programming. We are driving BlueMix into that curriculum as well and we have many of the e new start-ups now placing their whole business on BlueMix as well. We are in the midst of expanding that globally and are having such conversations in India as well. We are trying to make technology as openly available as possible so start up community can work with it.
The interesting thing is that start ups once they start growing wants to be like an enterprise and large enterprise wants to be like start ups, and continue to grow fast. It is not about start up versus enterprise it’s about enabling an enterprise to behave like a start up and enable a start up to behave like an enterprise and address the whole continuum of users. This is really the way cloud is transforming the industry.
Moving ahead, what will be the challenge for cloud app developers?
The activities we have done in India so far have been met with a lot of enthusiasm. We recently launched the Great Mind Challenge where 60000 students built applications on top of BlueMix and we have also talked to the major GSIs. All of them have got cloud practices going on today and many of them are looking at innovation services where they better leverage the public cloud as well. So I think they see the transition coming.
The key challenge is I am offering a capability, an app that always has to be on. It is going to be 7*24*365. I need to be able to deliver at cloud speed, I need to be able to provide a rich devops experience so my clients always have access to my code. The development methodology is going to change and it is going to be quicker and they need to think more in cloud time than they have been doing in the past.
What about security constraints?
We need to help customers understand that you will be as secure in the public cloud as you will be in private cloud. And I think with the expertise we are going to bring forward in the public cloud I would say in most cases you might be even more secure in public cloud than in private cloud. These myths will quickly disappear. We see some significant applications moving to the public cloud. That’s where we see the value of a platform, a platform now starts beginning to capture a lot of best practices so that an individual developer does not have to be totally skilled. So if we you look at an example, one of the hardest things for a developer is to build a scalable application. Platforms like BlueMix what it helps is it has got auto scaling features, it has ability to test security while you are building stuff. The developers don’t have the time or want to spend it on all of these things. They want to build applications and capture the market. The platform takes away a lot of typical hurdles that they have and makes it easy to provision, scale, secure and integrate systems and all in a progressive way without having to invest all the money upfront.