As business leaders begin betting their companies on a surging range of cloud and AI technologies, IBM plans to leapfrog its tech competitors by offering new tools that simplify and streamline the management of those complex technologies regardless of which cloud or AI vendor provides them.
The core challenge is one that has bedeviled CIOs for decades: as waves of powerful and high-potential new technologies from a wide range of vendors enter the market to address specific tasks, business customers are ultimately left with the highly challenging, expensive and time-consuming task of finding some way to make all those disparate technologies work together and play by the same rules.
Cloud computing’s already become suffused deeply into the business mainstream, and AI, while only beginning to make that incursion, is showing enormous promise and will certainly become a broadly used business weapon within the next year or two at the outside.
IBM is betting that business customers will quickly realize that while all that digital innovation is helping to create competitive advantage in multiple locations across the company, it’s also leading to a point in the near future when the overall management and organization of all that powerful technology will become nothing short of a business nightmare.
And IBM says that its two new tools will not only help corporate customers avoid those nightmares but also “move beyond the productivity economics of renting computing power” to “fully leveraging the cloud to invent new business processes and enter new markets.
- Multicloud Manager is designed to help businesses manage, move and integrate apps and data across different cloud infrastructures, or what’s recently become known as “multi-cloud environments.” The new management solution can handle cloud services from not only IBM but also Amazon, Red Hat and Microsoft to give companies more visibility into their business processes, governance and security, IBM said in a press release.
- AI OpenScale is designed to allow businesses to “use the AI of their choice, regardless of vendor” so those companies can scale up their AI initiatives in an atmosphere of trust and openness that “will enable the AI economy,” said David Kenny, IBM senior vice president of Cognitive Solutions.
In an interview last week about Multicloud Manager, IBM Cloud general manager Steve Robinson said, “Our research shows that today, only about 20% of corporate workloads have made it to the public cloud—our customers say they love cloud experience, and they’re now starting to think about having some of their really serious workloads move in cloud direction.
“But what’s holding them up are things like latency, regulatory requirements, various compliance issues” and other challenges around the smooth management of and visibility into all of those different facets of cloud operations,” Robinson said.
“And on top of that, more workloads moving in the cloud direction inevitably means more complexity—more applications, more platforms, more compliance and regulations.”
The IBM Multicloud Manager’s specifically designed to manage those challenges, Robinson said, and incorporates IBM’s full range of expertise across on-premises systems and technology, private cloud and public cloud—the entire gamut of “hybrid” environments that are and will be the norm for most businesses for at least the next several years.
In research conducted by IBM and McKinsey into corporate usage of clouds, the results showed that it’s quite common for large businesses to be using up to 9 different cloud vendors across public and private for infrastructure and platform services—“and when you factor in the presence of major SaaS providers, it’s even more complex,” Robinson said.
“And all that complexity is right in our wheelhouse—we love taking that complexity and coming up with simple solutions for our clients—because we know the technology and we know how enterprises work, and we can take a single high-level view of all that complexity and pull all those pieces together so our clients don’t have to figure out how to do that.”
One customer anecdote offered by Robinson underscored the fact that while products like Multicloud Manager are themselves deeply technical, the business value they deliver is absolutely essential to companies in today’s relentless and fast-changing digital economy.
“Boards are absolutely having these discussions about strategic directions involving cloud computing—but just 5 years ago, the idea of a board talking about ‘cloud’ was unimaginable,” Robinson said. “And the pivot you’re seeing is that every industry has been and will continue to be severely impacted by the cloud through potential changes in their financial models, the speed with which they can do innovation, or the threat of new competitors coming into their space without high hurdle to entry as in past.”
He described one large European bank whose CEO had recently proposed to the board the adoption of a “cloud-first” strategy, only to find that the board pushed back even harder with a mandate to go beyond cloud-first to “cloud-only.”
“So we’ve begun working with them to evaluate their 700 workloads and map out the right ways to get them to the cloud,” Robinson said.
For AI OpenScale, IBM believes companies will be able to use it to run AI more transparently and detect—and correct—bias across all of their AI systems and applications, regardless of where those AI apps were built on in which environment they’re currently running.
“All enterprises today are certainly eager to get into AI, but most are holding back because of concerns around the trust and transparency of AI,” said Ruchir Puri, CTO and chief architect for IBM Watson, in an interview last week.
“So we’ve created AI OpenScale to run in multiple clouds, or on-premises or whatever environment a client might have—we make their AI trusted and transparent and run it at scale because our open technology allows [our solution] to adapt to any type of environment.”
A key component of AI OpenScale, Puri said, is its ability to not only detect bias but also correct it in real-time as transactions are running, with those corrections being customized to the clients’ specifications.
“This is the first step in ‘automating AI’—enabling it to correct itself,” he said.
Another way in which IBM is looking to automate AI via this new solution is with NeuNetS, which the company said in a press release is “a major scientific breakthrough in which AI builds AI—making it possible to create complex, deep-neural networks from scratch.”
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The business benefit: companies can now have neural networks that can power AI solutions “in hours instead of months,” Puri said, underscoring how this is another example of the “automation of AI.”
Every element of AI OpenScale is true to the “open” concept that’s embedded in its name, Puri said, which is an essential ingredient in today’s business environment.
“We know enterprises build AI in all kinds of environments, with all kinds of tools, and we are the first to reach a level of maturity with the technology where we can confidently say that we know people have choices, and we will accept and work with them whatever those choices might be.”
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