IBM Battles at the Edge of the Market

A centuries-old military aphorism claims that “all battles occur at the edges where two maps meet.” The implication is that the most critical aspect of combat takes place where details are lacking, and control is limited at best.

IBM gets this, and it is the reason behind their critical edge computing announcements at last week’s well-managed #Think2020 virtual event.  But their own go-to-market approach may leave them sailing off the edge of opportunity.

The need to bridge cloud and on-prem resources and workloads has made edge computing a necessity. But the realities of integrating and managing the dynamically variable scopes of tech and operations involved make defining, let alone managing, the edge extremely complex and costly. Not only do we have trouble seeing where the edge is, but we have to manage resources there. And if we can’t manage workloads, applications, interfaces, and capacity around the edge, we lose business battles.

What makes the edge work for enterprises? Adaptable combinations of networking, analytics, containerization, open source software (especially APIs), and carefully-applied AI.

That’s what IBM’s big edge announcements home in on. Among several cool things, Old Blue has rolled out a robust set of platforms, software and services designed to help IT providers and enterprise customers both manage edge-related networking and computing workloads – deeply leveraging its Red Hat subsidiary’s software and its Watson brand analytics.

IBM’s Core Edge Announcements

Think2020 edge announcements include the following:

  • Watson AIOps helps providers and enterprises automate the detection of, diagnosis of, and response to “IT anomalies” (IBM’s term) in real time – i.e., as waves of workloads crash together at the edge.
  • Edge Application Manager builds on IBM’s open-source Open Horizon edge computing project (built around Red Hat’s OpenShift software) to make it easier to enable AI, analytics and IoT workloads on the edge. Cisco announced that it is working with Edge Application Manager to deploy apps and analytics models that run on Cisco servers, gateways, routers, switches, SD-WAN, and wireless-connectivity offerings.
  • Red Hat Open Shift and the OpenStack platforms also underlie IBM’s Telco Network Cloud Manager – a telco/service provider offering that helps automate virtual and container network orchestration.
  • A new, dedicated IBM Services team for edge computing and telco cloud offerings.
  • The IBM Edge Ecosystem is a collective of providers that includes Cisco, Juniper, NVIDIA and Samsung. The ecosystem group should help IBM facilitate and co-develop further capabilities for moving customer data and applications between on-premises and hybrid, multi-cloud systems. A future Telco Network Cloud Ecosystem will serve a similar function for network providers.
  • The IBM Cloud Satellite service – announced but not yet rolling out – will extend IBM’s public-cloud services into customer and partner data centers in data centers and at the edge. Also OpenShift-based, the Cloud Satellite service lets customers run applications workloads where and when needed, dynamically utilizing available resources to optimize performance and delivery. This may be IBM’s most important edge rollout this year.

The IBM Edge Portfolio Makes Sense

The company is in the right place at the right time with the right capabilities. And the demos and briefings that we attended clearly explain how each applies to emerging, growing, and increasingly complex enterprise edge+multicloud IT needs.

But in our view, IBM lacks some compelling go-to-market power. First, they lack business cases that translate edge computing workload improvement into operational improvement for C-level and VP-level business leaders in different functional areas of the enterprise.  We get that IBM prefers to focus on tech improvements and vertical/industry-focused solutions and benefits.There are advantages to that, especially when it comes to working through channel partners. But given how enterprise functional groups (e.g., Finance, Marketing, Sales) drive IT acquisition, IBM’s approach feels self-limiting and outdated.

Secondly, IBM’s overall go-to-market is still clearly fixed on enterprise IT leaders, with some vertical/industry-oriented flavor. Obviously, IT leaders and organizations must be involved in the acquisition of anything as complex as edge computing and related systems and services. But underneath everything, IBM is still selling tech to technologists. A complementary approach emphasizing role- and LOB-specific improvements within enterprises could be a very powerful differentiator. It would also provide IBM with much-needed presence expansion within customer enterprises.

Otherwise, IBM – and any other IT provider still pursuing traditional go-to-market strategies – risks limiting itself to selling tech while customers increasingly seek business-performance-improvement opportunities.


The views and opinions in this analysis are my own and do not represent positions or opinions of The Analyst Syndicate. Read more on the Disclosure Policy.