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Why IBM's Cloudant Acquisition is a Big Deal and Who it Threatens

While the age of big data, mobile, cloud and analytics is one of great excitement and opportunity for startups like Cloudera, DataStax, MongoDB and others who have emerged during the past several years, it’s also one of danger for computing giants like EMC, IBM, HP, Oracle, Microsoft and the like.

Chances are, better than not, that at least one of these established giants won’t make it into computing’s third era. 

EMC CEO Joe Tucci explained this to a crowd of 15,000 at EMC World last year.

Using the transition from the mainframe to the client server era as the basis for his argument, he noted that, “As we moved from platform one (mainframe) to platform two (client-server) there [were] 21 companies with over a billion dollar market cap and the only one that made it successfully to platform two was IBM.”

He went on, “Now as we’re now having the same transition from platform two to platform three … and the companies that are prominent on platform two [will] become much less so [we’ll see] new companies come to great prominence.”

Tucci went on with an impressive presentation about what EMC is doing to catapult its leadership position on platform three, but that’s another story.

Enterprise Tech Titans Feel the Heat

Now clearly, Tucci is not the only CEO of an enterprise-focused tech titan who is feeling the heat: there’s also HP’s Meg Whitman, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and IBM’s Ginny Rometty, among others.

They know that they can’t rest on yesterday’s laurels and that tweaking existing products won’t open the door into the next era.

Instead they must innovate in-house, as IBM did with Watson, or they can make acquisitions that will (hopefully) catapult them into the next phase.

IBM Buying Its Way Into Big Data and Cloud

That’s why IBM bought infrastructure-as-a-service brand SoftLayer last year; it’s why they purchased big data-database provider Cloudant today. Cloudant gives IBM a NoSQL DBaaS layer that works with SoftLayer.

For those who aren’t familiar with Cloudant, it’s an open source non-relational (NoSQL), distributed database service based on the Apache-backed CouchDB project and the creator of the open source BigCouch project. Like MongoDB, it is a NoSQL document database using JSON-formatted information. 

MongoDB, incidentally, has, at least up until now, been working closely with SoftLayer. We’re not sure that that has to change, after all, we’re now living in a more collaborative world in which playing nicely with others often translates into winning more business.

SoftLayer + Cloudant = A Competitor to AWS Dynamo?

As we wrote last week, IBM already does more Big Data business than anyone on the planet, and though there are, no doubt, some startups (Cloudera and Pivotal) that hope to rival IBM, the big elephant in the room (no Hadoop-related pun intended) may be Amazon. We’ve talked to developers who claim that Cloudant on bare metal outperforms Amazon DynamoDB.

We’d love to see some cost comparisons.

Will an IBM-owned Cloudant Translate to Vendor Lock-in for Customers?

Derek Schoettle CEO, Cloudant says no. In an email sent to customers he wrote:

Our position of providing a cloud-agnostic data layer will not change and remains an important differentiator for our business. We know that customers need options to prevent vendor lock-in as the cloud industry consolidates. Cloudant and IBM are the latest example of this trend, yes, but with some important distinctions.


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