With the recent announcements of IBM Cloud Paks and more, IBM stepped up its game for legacy enterprise clients, providing a strong signal to the market that the hybrid cloud model is here to stay.

Under the helm of new CEO Arvind Krishna, IBM is customizing its cloud strategy to support and sustain existing mainframe customers. The launch of a complete hybrid cloud solution is largely thanks to IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat in 2019, which made it possible to leverage the Red Hat OpenShift product for open-source containerization.

It’s also worth noting that IBM decided to separately maintain Red Hat’s go-to-market approach, alliance and ecosystem teams. Time will tell if this signals a new phase for “Big Blue.” Yet it undoubtedly served as an affirmation for both the open source community and existing Red Hat clients.

Finally… an option to migrate the mainframe
We think IBM’s new direction is the beginning of a marathon in the cloud race, but one in which the company is now well positioned to place. Why? Because IBM is now providing a viable alternative to the hyperscale cloud providers and a path forward to public cloud without expensive refactorization. IBM is offering a lift and shift option for the mainframe to help clients close their data centers. This will also reduce risk and complexity and help fund modernization on and around the mainframe.

Companies that rely on mainframes or mid-range classes of computing for both hardware or software (Z-series, AS400, etc.) now have a cost-effective option to transition functionality, processes or products/services directly to IBM’s public cloud.

This not only makes it easier for enterprises to initiate the journey to a hybrid cloud model and begin using cloud-native patterns for development, but also fast-tracks the ability to close data centers and redirect savings toward application modernization efforts.

It’s a differentiating approach for IBM—one that can help future proof application investments by making legacy systems more agile and efficient.

Hybrid cloud eases migration path
IBM’s approach aligns with some of Accenture’s own thinking on hybrid cloud. Increasingly, it’s clear the hybrid model has some staying power given the realities of the journey to cloud.

Although many organizations have moved the easier “low-hanging” infrastructure/applications to the cloud—approximately 20 percent of their IT infrastructure—they must figure out how to manage the bigger, more complicated shifts with multiple integration points. Think mainframes or massive ERP systems housed in physical data centers—aka the 80 percent that’s been difficult to budge whether heading for private, public or hybrid cloud.

IBM is now poised to make the process easier to manage and view across a range of infrastructure. It’s a good option for companies that struggle with what to do with their investments in mainframe class of computing.

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CloudPaks make it all possible
After purchasing Red Hat, IBM rewrote several of its core software products (e.g., database software like DB2, queuing software like MQ Series, middleware like Websphere, etc.) to work on top of Red Hat OpenShift, and then regrouped them into six Cloud Paks  that clients can license. In some cases, these Cloud Paks combine IBM legacy with Red Hat open source to mix between 75-100 products  into one simplified, modernized and flexible container solution.

This packaging was a smart move on multiple fronts. Now companies can pursue true application modernization in a more flexible, containerized solution that is enabled by open source technologies. Many of these packaged products need to work together to create the full functionality in hybrid cloud. Customers no longer need to buy dozens of individual software products but instead can buy, for example, a whole set for back-end software.

What’s even more innovative from IBM is these Cloud Paks are designed to work on any cloud at any time. We repeat—ANY cloud. And for all companies, that’s an exciting step closer towards achieving the promise of cloud portability.

Overcoming vendor lock-in

The announcements at IBM Think also serve a second purpose: demonstrating that the fields of cloud infrastructure and software development are converging. Increasingly, companies can use the same vendor, approach and serverless platform for application modernization and cloud services.

Clearly, IBM with Red Hat is jockeying to be the new Java layer across any cloud. In a world where companies fear being locked into a single cloud provider, IBM is serving itself up as a hybrid software intermediary. The premise is that choosing IBM will help companies keep their options open among other hyperscalers. We’ll keep watch on how that plays out in the coming months.

Hybrid cloud obstacles still exist

While IBM’s moves are exciting, there are some potential downsides to its approach. First, the company has formed two parallel strategies—mainframe and open source. Some might even call them opposing. So, it remains to be seen if IBM will be able to sacrifice legacy mainframe consumption to move to Red Hat Open Shift in public cloud.

Second, IBM’s software retrofit and hybrid cloud path still has its limits. While valid for specific use cases, it’s unrealistic for most companies to convert all of their remaining IT infrastructure and applications solely to public cloud.

Thus, the inevitable journey to cloud quandary still exists for companies—the what, how and how much to migrate. Except now it’s aimed at the heavy-duty 80 percent.

Regardless of the route and cloud provider(s) your company chooses, it’s challenging to determine what infrastructure and applications to transition off the mainframe. The proper composition and optimization for your hybrid cloud model also depends on your company’s industry and unique business model.

That’s why Accenture starts our hybrid cloud guidance by looking at each client’s specific situation. Since we’re technology agnostic, we maintain alliance relationships with all the major cloud providers, which makes it possible to offer hybrid cloud model recommendations based on what will work best for your needs.

When IBM is part of that equation, we apply our experience as the #1 systems integrator of IBM technology and the Accenture Center for IBM Technologies (ACIT) with our knowledge of IBM and Red Hat software to help you determine the best IBM solutions for your situation.

To learn more, watch this interview with Accenture’s Prasad Sankaran given during IBM Think Digital event.

Miha Kralj

Cloud Migration and Modernization Lead

Mark Potts

Global IBM Partnership Lead

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