Enterprises across the globe are warming up to the adoption of cloud computing, which is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage and process data, instead of using a local server or a personal computer.
While the first wave of cloud computing was about mitigating the problem of locally managing and storing data, the next generation of cloud computing is proving to be about innovation on the cloud. In a world where services are going increasingly mobile, the cloud seeks to empower the smallest of businesses to develop the right kind of apps (which are hosted on the cloud) and connect with potential customers.
While the US-based Amazon Web Services stole a march over competitors in the first generation of cloud-based services to become the largest cloud computing company in the world, its American peer and one of the oldest technology firms in the world, IBM, seeks to dominate the second generation of the cloud, which is based on innovation. And India will play a major role in its scheme of things.
In an interview with Forbes India, Robert LeBlanc, senior vice president of IBM Cloud, said the company will be ramping up the footprint of its new generation cloud-based services in India. Excerpts:
Q. How important is India as a market for your cloud-based services?
In the first generation of the cloud, people were looking to manage costs by storing data on a public cloud and paying for what they used, instead of building their own data centres, which were expensive. The flexibility and agility that the cloud offers is very conducive to the next generation of cloud-based services, which are a platform for innovation. The cloud is transitioning from being a money-saving tool to an enabler of disruptive innovation. Think Uber, WhatsApp or Airbnb. So, if you think about it, the programmer developing an application is the agent of innovation. Our services like Bluemix make it possible for programmers to develop a new generation of applications swiftly, taking advantage of things like analytics and mobile. So, if it is the programmer that makes the difference, step back and think where you will find the second-largest body of programmers in the world? It’s in India. And these Indian programmers are working for some of the largest system integrators around the world and helping clients transform. So India is in a prime position to be a major player in the next generation of the cloud.
Q. What role will IBM be playing in the next generation of cloud-based services in India?
We’ve set up two data centres in India and also tied up with Nasscom to help build a platform for Indian startups, helping them connect with venture capitalists, setting up their business models and giving them the right technology tools to start a business. For startups that come through this programme, we also offer some free credits to use our cloud services [Bluemix] for a year. Traditionally, most of IBM’s enterprise clients in India have been large public and private enterprises. However, with our applications and capabilities on the cloud, we can even look at small and medium enterprises and offer them the same capabilities and services that only the big players had access to earlier. India has one of the youngest working populations in the world and with smartphone penetration and the potential of 4G, India is a very interesting market for us.
Q. In terms of adoption of cloud computing, how do you rank India among other global markets where IBM is present?
If you look at IDC [International Data Corporation] data, it places India in the top 30 percent as far as global adoption of cloud-based services goes. That is pretty consistent with the size of the business that we see for IBM in India. But when I look at some of our specific services, like Bluemix, India ranks second in terms of adoption after the US. It is logical that India is the second-largest market for Bluemix as it has the second-largest population of application developers in the world; and if that data is to be believed, the number of programmers in India will surpass [that in] the US by 2018.
What is important for us is to establish a platform where we believe the pool of developers exists. That is why we have announced a partnership with Accenture [IBM also has partnerships with other system integrators like Tech Mahindra, Wipro and Infosys, wherein programmers of these IT firms develop apps for their clients using the Bluemix platform]. These programmers work on applications that are used not only in India but across the world. We have around 1,800 clients who use our cloud-based services in India.
Q. How do you react to the security concerns around storing data on the cloud, especially public clouds (where a service provider makes resources, such as applications and storage, available to the public over the internet on a pay-per-usage model)?
A public cloud is more secure than a lot of private clouds that companies run themselves. This is for the simple reason that a public cloud that we run is controlled by us end-to-end and we ensure that we have all the tools to ensure data security. If you look at most of the data breaches that have happened, they have occurred in private clouds; some of them aren’t even clouds, they are just private data centres.
Very often, data gets leaked if one contractor or employee who has control over the entire system is compromised. We don’t have that system. There is still scepticism among some about the security aspect of storing data on the cloud but that is changing. Also, we don’t store all data in one place. We have acquired a company called Cleversafe, which breaks up data into parcels and stores them in different locations, so even if one data centre is breached, all you get is just one piece of the puzzle.
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(This story appears in the 11 December, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)