President of IBM Canada Ayman Antoun on stage at the IBM Think Canada event in Toronto. Photo submitted.

Published: October 25th, 2019

Red Hat and IBM executives leading the Canadian business opened up about last year’s $34 billion deal that saw the two tech companies tie the knot and place an enormous bet on hybrid cloud.

While IBM has its own public cloud that delivers Watson, analytics tools and even quantum computing through it, it hasn’t been enough to gain significant market share when compared to AWS and Azure. That’s why Big Blue decided to shift its focus and lean on Red Hat to become a leading cloud management player instead.

“It was hard,” admitted Ayman Antoun, president of IBM Canada, referring to the company’s decision to move away from being a major Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas) provider to a middleman that spans infrastructure, platform, and software.

Antoun was joined by Red Hat country manager Claude Reeves to speak with reporters at the IBM Canada Think Summit in Toronto.

Antoun joked that his services team has had to convince job applicants that they weren’t joking when they said IBM was looking specifically for people who could manage Azure among other cloud services.

“We’re on that journey now and walking that talk,” he said.

The IBM Think Summit show floor. Photo by Alex Coop.

An IBM-commissioned study by McKinsey & Company shows that most enterprises are only 20 per cent of the way into their journey towards some form of cloud architecture.

The other 80 per cent faces significant challenges. The owners of those workloads are worried about entrusting sensitive data to third parties, and often use legacy services that are hard to move to the cloud.

Because of these concerns, among others, IBM is confident that hybrid cloud solutions will be met with open arms by a substantial number of customers.

IBM also revealed its plans to launch a new IBM Cloud multizone region (MZR) in Canada by the end of 2020, the company’s first MZR in the country. Located in Toronto, the new MZR will help clients consistently access IBM public cloud services and embark on a hybrid cloud strategy.

What does ‘open’ mean now anyway?

Every since the US$34 billion mega-deal went through, IBM and Red Hat have frequently described themselves as the leader in open source and open cloud technologies.

Yet even Microsoft, one of IBM’s biggest competitors in the cloud arena, has embraced open source software. Last year, it acquired open source code repository and developer community GitHub for $7.5 billion.

So when asked how is IBM and Red Hat more open than Microsoft – or even Amazon and Google Cloud, both of which have made similar claims – Claude said it comes down to hidden agendas.

“Open is a tricky word now,” he said. “If I say Anthos, that’s open and open source. But what’s the agenda of the company behind Anthos? They have a very explicit agenda to pull workloads into Google Cloud. What about AKS from Microsoft – and we love Microsoft and we’re not bashing any of these vendors – but AKS isn’t fully-featured because they want the fully-featured version to be in Azure.

“OpenShift is not tied to any cloud and it doesn’t have a cloud agenda. No Red Hat rep gets paid on IBM cloud. There’s no extra benefit to Red Hat to put workloads on IBM Cloud than there is to put it on Azure, by design. IBM deserves huge amounts of respect for making the call and walking away from the single cloud focus. No one with that capability is willing to do that.”

Claude added remaining agnostic was a non-negotiable item when IBM was acquiring Red Hat.