IBM is on the hunt for more cloud business from network operators.
"5G will fundamentally change the user experience," proclaimed Howard Boville, SVP of IBM Hybrid Cloud, during a Tuesday keynote appearance at a virtual event hosted by the GSMA (a global trade association for the wireless industry) and the CTIA (a US trade association for the wireless industry). Vendors typically use such events to highlight their wares in an increasingly competitive industry.
Boville argued that IBM is unique in the industry in that it can offer hybrid, multi-cloud services to network operators with an emphasis on security, openness and flexibility.
Specifically, he pointed out that IBM won't attempt to monetize its customers' data (Google side-eye) nor will it attempt to lock customers into its own ecosystem of services (Microsoft side-eye).
"Our focus is on collaboration and not competing," Boville added.
To underscore his pitch, Boville pointed to two of IBM's recent wins in the telecom market: Vodafone and Bharti Airtel.
In May, Airtel announced it would build its core network and consumer and enterprise services on top of a telco network cloud from IBM and Red Hat. Also in May, Vodafone Idea said it is moving forward in its efforts to deploy both its IT and network applications on a common cloud architecture powered by IBM and Red Hat.
"We're still in the early stages of cloud adoption," suggested Boville, an executive IBM brought on in May from Bank of America. Prior to joining Bank of America in 2012, Boville headed up global services at British Telecom.
Omdia Principal Analyst James Crawshaw noted that IBM has managed to sign on a handful of prominent players to its telco cloud initiative, including Juniper Networks and Matrixx Software. He added that IBM is also leveraging the Red Hat versions of OpenStack (which he said is widely used by telcos) and Kubernetes (dubbed OpenShift by RedHat).
But Crawshaw said IBM's sales pitch, which focuses on openness, options and flexibility, faces some challenges as well. He warned that companies like IBM that are promising an open and flexible approach may not end up acting that way for their carrier customers because they can end up locking operators into their own services anyway, just as a company like Microsoft would.
"At the same time, by spreading workloads across multiple public clouds, you lose the pricing advantage of buying in bulk," Crawshaw wrote in response to questions from Light Reading on the topics. "So, migrating workloads between clouds is not so interesting (in my view) but Red Hat's OpenStack and OpenShift are perfectly good options for private cloud (where operators remain comfortable running most of their IT today)."
Indeed, IBM is facing stiff competition for operators' cloud businesses. Microsoft recently purchased Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch as it chases the space; Google is staffing up its own telecom push for cloud; and Amazon is working to clarify its approach to the market.
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