Tag: cloud

IBM’s Watson Ups the Ante in Healthcare | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

The recently announced acquisition of Merge is one in a string of initiatives by IBM to increase both its market presence and depth of offerings to the healthcare sector. With birth rates increasing in many parts of the world and the aging population growing in developed countries, the race is on for data driven and highly efficient healthcare.

IBM is clearly targeting this market. Its recent activities have included:

  • Entering into new partnerships with companies such as Apple, Johnson & Johnson, and Medtronic for health-related data collection, analysis, and feedback
  • A partnership with CVS Health to develop care management applications for chronic diseases
  • Acquiring Explorys, a healthcare data provider, and Phytel, a hospital care coordination information provider
  • Buying AlchemyAPI to include text analysis and computer vision capabilities into Watson’s computing platform
  • Establishing a dedicated business unit called IBM Watson Health, headquartered in the Boston, MA, with the specific remit of growing its healthcare business
  • Collaborating with leading hospitals and research institutes including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Cleveland Clinic, and the Mayo Clinic to leverage Watson’s healthcare capabilities at the cutting edge of medical research
  • Setting up IBM Watson Health cloud to bring together data for healthcare and research

The US$1 billion acquisition of Merge brings IBM a medical imaging platform to combine with Watson’s image data and analytics capabilities and an extended client base. Excellent and Elementary, Dr. Watson.

With these initiatives, IBM is building specialist competences, to capture, analyze, and recommend treatments or actions that would help healthcare providers, payers, pharmaceuticals, as well as individuals achieve positive health outcomes.

Gaining a wide range of capabilities in specific areas has helped IBM generate specific segment revenue in good and bad times. For example, its large number of information management and WebSphere portfolio acquisitions (e.g., Cognos, Netezza, and SPSS, to name but a few) has seen segment-specific revenues maintain steady growth over the years.

If IBM was to successfully combine its deep specialization in healthcare with Watson’s cognitive computing to enhance its services, it could gain a big edge over competitors at a time when demand is set to grow. At the moment we are seeing more of IBM in healthcare IT infrastructure modernization contracts than data-driven care provisioning and support services. Recent examples include:

  • A contract to update the UK NHS’ electronic staff record (ESR) system, adding mobile access and self-service capabilities for 1.4 million employees
  • A contract to provide mainframe and data center server and storage infrastructure services for Anthem Inc, a U.S.-based health benefits company, for the next five years at TCV of US$500 million

These types of contracts give IBM opportunities to tap into new solution and services openings at existing clients.

Other challenges for IBM’s intelligent and data driven healthcare offerings include:

  • Collecting enough data for its solutions to be relevant to, as well as accessible in, different parts of the world
  • Data protection barriers in Europe
  • Poor cloud infrastructure in emerging economies.

IBM is going all out when it comes to showcasing Watson as a competitive differentiator. In an uncharacteristic move (and a sign of the times), it has launched Watson Developer Cloud, an open platform for developers to build apps on top of Watson for industry-specific solutions (through a set of APIs and SDKs). It is also working with app developers such as Decibel, Epic, Fluid, Go Moment, MD Buyline, TalkSpace, and Welltok to build apps embedded on Watson technology, thereby, rounding up a robust ecosystem. It is abundantly clear that IBM views healthcare as the principal vertical where Watson’s computing prowess can make its mark. In the meantime other service providers are likely to build or acquire their own cognitive capabilities to challenge IBM on pricing and specialist offerings.


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Avoid the “Gotchas” in Purchasing Next-Gen Tech Services | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

The new technologies sweeping the market hold great promise of competitive advantages. But there’s a disturbing trend occurring in the services sales process for these technologies that poses a risk for buyers. Look out for providers talking about cloud, mobility, big data, the Internet of Things, and social in the same breath as SaaS/BPaas, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Providers that jumble these technologies together as though they are homogeneous really don’t understand the implications of what they’re trying to sell you. They’re basically throwing mud against your wall and seeing what sticks.

The possibilities with all of these technologies are exciting, but they have distinctly different impacts on the buyer’s business.

As illustrated in the diagram below, we can bucket one class of impacts as those that create new business opportunities. They provide new types of services that enterprises can use to change the composition of their customers or provide different kinds of services. For example, the Internet of Things holds enormous promise around allowing enterprises to provide a completely different class of services to their customers. In mobility and social technologies, the digital revolution holds the promise of changing the way businesses interact with their end customers.

Changing technology opens up new opportunities but also creates strategic challenges

Changing technologies

The second class of new technologies (Saas/BPaaS, automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence) changes how services are delivered. For example, SaaS takes a functionality that was available but delivers it through a different mechanism. Automation and robotics changes the way service is provided by shifting from FTE-based models into an automated machine-based delivery vehicle.

The two buckets of technologies have different value propositions. The first class of technologies (cloud, mobility, big data, IoT, and social) are about getting new and different functionality. The impacts in the second class are lower costs and improved flexibility and agility. Each class of technologies has different objectives and value propositions and thus needs a different kind of business case. Buyers that mix these technologies together in a business case do themselves substantial disservice.

The way you need to evaluate the two distinct types of technologies (and providers offering them) is completely different. A provider that recognizes that automation, robotics, and SaaS are about changing the nature of delivery will have a much more thoughtful conversation with you and build its value proposition around flexibility, speed, and quality of service and cost.

A provider that recognizes the impact of mobility, cloud, big data, and the IoT technologies will talk to you about a value proposition around standing up exciting new capabilities, creating new offers and changing the conversation with your end customers.

So, buyer beware. If you’re talking with a provider that mixes these technologies’ distinct value propositions together, you’re dealing with a provider that really doesn’t understand what they’re offering.


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Hadoop and OpenStack – Is the Sheen Really Wearing off? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Despite Hadoop’s and OpenStack’s adoption, our recent discussions with enterprises and technology providers revealed two prominent trends:

  1. Big Data will need more than a Hadoop: Along with NoSQL technologies, Hadoop has really taken the Big Data bull by the horns. Indications of a healthy ecosystem are apparent when you see that leading vendors such as MapR is witnessing a 100% booking growth, Cloudera is expecting to double itself, and Hortonworks is almost doubling itself. However, the large vendors that really drive the enterprise market/mindset and sell multiple BI products – such as IBM, Microsoft, and Teradata – acknowledge that Hadoop’s quantifiable impact is as of yet limited. Hadoop’s adoption continues on a project basis, rather than as a commitment toward improved business analytics. Broader enterprise class adoption remains muted, despite meaningful investments and technology vendors’ focus.

  2. OpenStack is difficult, and enterprises still don’t get it: OpenStack’s vision of making every datacenter a cloud is facing some hurdles. Most enterprises find it hard to develop OpenStack-based cloud themselves. While this helps cloud providers pitch their OpenStack offerings, adoption is far from enterprise class. The OpenStack foundation’s survey indicates that approximately 15 percent of organizations utilizing OpenStack are outside the typical ICT industry or academia. Moreover, even cloud service providers, unless really dedicated to the OpenStack cause, are reluctant to meaningfully invest in it. Although most have an OpenStack offering or are planning to launch one, their willingness to push it to clients is subdued.

Why is this happening?

It’s easy to blame these challenges on open source and contributors’ lack of coherent strategy or vision. However, that just simplifies the problem. Both Hadoop and OpenStack suffer from lack of needed skills and applicability. For example, a few enterprises and vendors believe that Hadoop needs to become more “consumerized” to enable people with limited knowledge of coding, querying, or data manipulation to work with it. The current esoteric adoption is driving these users away. The fundamental promise of new-age technologies making consumption easier is being defeated. Despite Hortonworks’ noble (and questioned) attempt to create an “OpenStack type” alliance in Open Data Platform, things have not moved smoothly. While Apache Spark promises to improve Hadoop consumerization with fast processing and simple programming, only time will tell.

OpenStack continues to struggle with a “too tough to deploy” perception within enterprises. Beyond this, there are commercial reasons for the challenges OpenStack is witnessing. Though there are OpenStack-only cloud providers (e.g., Blue Box and Mirantis), most other cloud service providers we have spoken with are half-heartedly willing to develop and sell OpenStack-based cloud services. Cloud providers that have offerings across technologies (such as BMC, CloudStack, OpenStack, and VMware) believe they have to create sales incentives and possibly hire different engineering talent to create cloud services for OpenStack. Many of them believe this is not worth the risk, as they can acquire an “OpenStack-only” cloud provider if real demand arises (as I write the news has arrived that IBM is acquiring Blue Box and Cisco is acquiring Piston Cloud).

Now what?

The success of both Hadoop and OpenStack will depend on simplification in development, implementation, and usage. Hadoop’s challenges lie both in the way enterprises adopt it and in the technology itself. Targeting a complex problem is a de facto approach for most enterprises, without realizing that it takes time to get the data clearances from business. This impacts business’ perception about the value Hadoop can bring in. Hadoop’s success will depend not on point solutions developed to store and crunch data, but on the entire value chain of data creation and consumption. The entire process needs to be simplified for more enterprises to adopt it. Hadoop and the key vendors need to move beyond Web 2.0 obsession to focus on other enterprises. With the increasing focus on real-time technologies, Hadoop should get a further leg up. However, it needs to provide more integration with existing enterprise investments, rather than becoming a silo. While in its infancy, the concept of “Enterprise Data Hub” is something to note, wherein the entire value chain of Big Data-related technologies integrate together to deliver the needed service.

As for OpenStack, enterprises do not like that they currently require too much external support to adopt it in their internal clouds. If the drop in investments is any indication, this will not take OpenStack very far. Cloud providers want the enterprises to consume OpenStack-based cloud services. However, enterprises really want to understand the technology to which they are making a long-term commitment, and are cautious of anything that requires significant reskill or has the potential to become a bottleneck in their standardization initiatives. OpenStack must address these challenges. Though most enterprise technologies are tough to consume, the market is definitely moving toward easier deployments and upgrades. Therefore, to really make OpenStack an enterprise-grade offering, its deployment, professional support, knowledge management, and requisite skills must be simplified.

What do you think about Hadoop and OpenStack? Feel free to reach out to me on [email protected].


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Virtustream Acquisition – EMC Spreads Its Hybrid Cloud Wings | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

EMC has taken a significant step forward in its hybrid cloud journey with the announcement of its acquisition of Virtustream in an all-cash transaction of US$1.2 billion. Founded in 2009, Virtustream is estimated to have clocked ~US$ 100 million in revenues last year through its cloud hosting services and management software (xStream) offerings – while cloud IaaS accounted for 60% of this revenue, the remaining 40% came from management software licenses.

The U.S.-based company will eventually become the managed cloud services division within the EMC Federation business. The transaction is expected to close by the third quarter of 2015 and be additive to EMC’s revenues starting 2016.

EMC is well known for its deep pockets. With about 70 acquisitions since 2003, the inorganic route is clearly not new to EMC (to put it mildly). The company has not shied away from flexing its muscles from time-to-time to build capabilities for its mainstay storage business and beyond.

EMC’s “Shift” to Cloud

The emergence of cloud has had a strong impact on EMC’s core storage business, which has been witnessing a sluggish demand over the past few years (the overall Information Storage division of EMC has witnessed a CAGR of ~3% over 2012-14). While EMC has rejigged its focus to cover new storage products, this “strategic tweak” in itself is not expected to arrest EMC’s plummeting revenue growth. Therefore, EMC has put its bet on the “next big thing” in the IT industry – hybrid cloud.

EMC’s association with VMWare and Pivotal has ensured that EMC is no newbie to the cloud; however, the real sign of intent from EMC came with the launch of its Enterprise Hybrid Cloud Solution last year. The launch also coincided with a triplet of cloud acquisitions – Cloudscaling (an OpenStack IaaS solution developer), Maginatics (a cloud-enabled storage provider), and Spanning (a cloud-based application data security provider).

So what does Virtustream bring to the table?

As EMC looks to make a mark in the enterprise cloud market, the Virtustream acquisition offers multiple benefits to EMC:

    1. Expansion of the Enterprise Hybrid Cloud Solution portfolio: EMC’s Enterprise Hybrid Cloud Solution is currently an on-premise private cloud offering that provides cloud-bursting options to VMware vCloud Air and other public cloud services. The addition of Virtustream’s xStream platform provides EMC with capabilities to manage both on-premise and off-premise deployments, thereby offering a truly hybrid cloud setup

      The xStream platform will be leveraged by EMC Federation service provider partners to deliver independent services based upon it

    2. Credible cloud managed services capabilities: Virtustream has witnessed credible success in serving large enterprises with complex cloud deployments and managed services requirements, through partnerships with industry-leading vendors such as SAP (which made a US$40 million investment in Virtustream in 2013), Oracle, and Microsoft. Virtustream has been certified by SAP to offer SAP HANA as-a-service. EMC can leverage Virtustream’s managed service capabilities/experience to serve its own existing clientele as well as prospects

    3. Datacenter footprint: Virtustream brings a credible revenue stream based on its datacenter footprint spanning locations such as the U.S., UK and the Netherlands (catering to key demand markets such as North America and Europe)

    4. Meaningful clientele: Virtustream brings a credible roster of clients including Coca-Cola, Domino Sugar, Heinz, Hess Corporation, and Kawasaki, which will get added to EMC’s kitty (to cross-sell its broader hybrid cloud and storage offerings).

The move to acquire Virtustream seems to be a logical one for EMC (although the revenue multiple of ~12X indicates some level of desperation on EMC’s part, given the ongoing stakeholder unrest). Also, given EMC’s traditional modus operandi of allowing its acquired entities to operate autonomously, we do not expect the acquisition to grossly impact Virtustream’s innovation capabilities (barring potential integration and cultural challenges)

Virtustream’s rationale for being acquired?

The development may have come across as a surprise for many market observers, given that the company was grappling with the idea of going public barely six months ago. While Virtustream was going great guns, the brand recognition of a cloud provider typically plays a huge role when it comes to large enterprises looking for sourcing options. Consequently, hitting the “next level” of growth trajectory potentially becomes a significant challenge for players such as Virtustream (especially with a large enterprise focus).

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Virtustream’s CEO, Rodney Rogers, claims to have considered multiple suitors over a period of time, before choosing EMC (based on terms offered and a chance to become a part of the EMC Federation).

Does this point to more consolidation in the cloud IaaS market?

The EMC-Virtustream deal has been preceded by multiple notable acquisitions in the cloud market over the past few years (Terremark by Verizon, Savvis by CenturyLink, SoftLayer by IBM, Metacloud by Cisco, and GoGrid by Datapipe). As various players in the enterprise cloud market, be it global IT service providers, telecom providers, or public cloud providers look to gain a stronger foothold, it is hard to bet against other similar acquisitions happening in the near future. The question is which company will be the next one to get gobbled up? CloudSigma? DigitalOcean? Joyent? ProfitBricks? Or even Rackspace? That only time will tell.


Photo credit: EMC

Is the Services Industry in Decline? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Information Services Group (ISG) publishes a quarterly “ISG Outsourcing Index,” which is widely read in the services industry. Q1 2015 wasn’t a pretty picture. The Americas saw a modest 10 percent gain in ACV, and India/South Asia showed strong. But the rest of the world took a bullet, so to speak; EMEA’s ACV declined by 25 percent, Asia Pacific by 45 percent, and Australia/New Zealand had one of the weakest quarters in a decade. So the modest gains are dramatically offset by large losses elsewhere. This is further evidence of what I’ve been blogging about for some time – the industry is at an inflection point and preparing to shift. Let’s look at where the shift is headed.

But, first, a word of caution. We at Everest Group stopped publishing our index based on publicly announced deals many years ago because we found the data was inherently flawed. If all you use is publicly announced deals, you’re only looking at the large transactions and only some of those because many deals are not published. The next-generation deals and smaller deals are typically not announced. So the data is inherently noisy. Having said that, there is some value to looking at what’s happening in publicly announced deals. As such, the ISG Outsourcing Index is as good as any.

Four themes in today’s market 

The services industry is now in a mature state. As such, it has four major characteristics or themes in what’s happening:

  1. Affected by economic cycles
  2. Brownfield deals
  3. Pricing pressures
  4. Shift toward smaller transactions

Cyclical impact. As a mature industry, the services business is affected by the cyclical economy to a much larger degree than it has been in the last 15 years. To wit, where we have a growing economy in North America, the industry has share increases; where there are struggling economies in the rest of the world, the industry has share and ACV decreases.

Brownfield deals. The services world now is largely defined as brownfield deals in that the majority of activity is recompeting existing scope rather than capturing new scope. In this world, awards are smaller transactions for shorter durations.

Pricing pressures. In a recent blog post, I detailed the pricing pressures now hitting service providers and resulting in a major downward spiral and pricing wars. The ISG data also reported the downward-pricing situation. Brownfield deals also exacerbate this situation as they’re hinged on winning recompetes with existing customers, which are intent on driving prices down.

Shift toward smaller transactions. In addition to the brownfield impact there is an uneasiness in the market due to customers’ desire to break up current deals and shift to next-generation models that are automation based, as-a-service or digital. We see this movement clearly as we look at the unannounced deals that we track at Everest Group. Our observation is that these unannounced deals are taking share but with small ACV awards.

This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the infrastructure martketplace, where there has been a secular shift from large, bundled, asset-heavy transactions to asset-light, unbundled transactions with shorter duration. The emerging markets of cloud computing and as-a-service accelerate this movement. Finally, we see tangible evidence of enterprises preparing to make large-scale shifts to cloud by adopting shorter, more flexible transaction structures for their legacy infrastructure and applications.

Bottom line

The industry faces the prospect of a maturing market impacted by economic cycles, pricing pressures, brownfield focus, and customers shifting to new models. The good news is that the new models and technologies are growth areas for the industry. However, these deals are smaller and are not usually announced deals and therefore don’t show up in the ISG Index.

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