Nov 1, 2017 6:57 AM PT

IBM’s latest private cloud is built on Kubernetes, and is aimed at Microsoft

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

IBM today announced a new version of its private cloud platform that supports the popular open source application container platform Kubernetes.

IBM Cloud Private gives customers an option to deploy applications on to the private cloud software in three ways: Either through Kubernetes, through the container management platform Cloud Foundry, or through traditional virtual machines. IBM says the private cloud management software also allows customers to run other legacy apps in containers and connect them to off-premises resources.

+MORE AT NETWORK WORLD: What is hybrid cloud computing? +

The announcement marks the latest effort by a major cloud vendor to create a tailored hybrid cloud product. It’s expected to compete with Microsoft Azure Stack, a combined hardware-software product that Microsoft made generally available earlier this fall. The announcement also follows news that Google has partnered most recently with Cisco, and before that VMware and Nutanix.

IBM’s cloud evolution

IBM is no stranger to cloud. The company has been one of the handful of companies competing in the infrastructure and platform as a service markets for the past half-decade. Reports from Synergy Research group, which focus on market sizing, have consistently placed IBM as being one of the four largest companies for combined IaaS, PaaS and hosted private cloud revenue. IBM is consistently behind Amazon Web Services – which synergy says is in a “league of its own” in terms of market share – and Microsoft, but IBM and Google are of similar size for combined public and private cloud revenue, Synergy says.

IBM has focused its cloud strategy on hybrid cloud, particularly offering a range of cloud options for customers including bare-metal public cloud, a range of middleware and application-centric cloud-based software such as WebSphere, and partnerships with companies like VMware. IBM also acquired Bluebox, a company that built a hosted private cloud platform based on OpenStack that sits on customers own premises, but was managed by IBM/Bluebox. Today’s announcement of IBM Cloud Private is meant to eventually replace Bluemix Local, which was the company’s previous private cloud platform based on Kubernetes.

Bala Rajaraman, IBM Fellow and CTO for Cloud Services, says the company had three goals when developing IBM Cloud Private (ICP): Help customers build new, container-based, microservices applications; make middleware components work in containerized and Kubernetes environments; and bring together IBM application programming interface (API) products including API Connect and API Management.

“We don’t consider this an alternative to public cloud,” Rajaraman explains. “It’s part of the continuum for customers who can choose where they want to put workloads.” He mentioned some hybrid cloud scenarios ICP supports: Building an application on-premises using a Kubernetes or Cloud Foundry framework, and moving it off-premises, or vice-versa. ICP also supports the deployment of applications that span on and off premises environments, for example a mobile application that uses back-end data on a customer’s site, along with IBM hosted offerings such as Watson, weather data or Blockchain services.

On-premises, ICP can run on bare metal servers, or in VMware environments. ICP uses Terraform to configure some on-premises resources. Rajaraman said ICP will support multiple public cloud endpoints, but because the system is more focused at the application and data layer – rather than the infrastructure layer – he believes the most common public cloud connections would be with SaaS companies like Salesforce and Workday (IBM and Salesforce announced a partnership earlier this year), rather than some of IBM’s public cloud competitors like AWS, Microsoft or Google.

As public IaaS cloud revenue continues to grow at healthy rates, more traditional on-premises vendors like IBM, Cisco and many others are exploring ways to give customers public-cloud like capabilities on premises, or in hybrid platforms that integrate with hosted infrastructure. There are a plethora of ways customers can build a hybrid cloud, but Microsoft’s introduction of Azure Stack is one that is designed to have a common infrastructure between on-premises and the public cloud. While ICP could compete with Azure Stack, the main difference with IBM’s strategy is the company is focusing on the application and data layer for hybrid cloud, rather than the infrastructure layer.

IBM says ICP is generally available now – the company had a soft-launch of the product earlier this summer. IBM has a free community edition, as well as an enterprise edition that can be paid for with a monthly subscription or via perpetual license. IBM did not say how much it costs, however.