The only surprising thing about IBM’s announcement this week that it is looking to push the cloud in the medium-sized enterprise space is that it didn't happen earlier. With this move, IBM looks set for a cloud services smackdown with Salesforce and Amazon, both of whom have been operating in the space for quite a while.

Not that Big Blue is actually going to go and peddle the cloud door to door to these enterprises, which are classified as those that have between 250-1000 employees, because it has another plan.

IBM, Amazon, Salesforce

It has launched a number of incentives that will enable its Managed Services Partners (MSPs) exploit its cloud services products better and push them in the mid-sized space.

To be clear who and what we are talking about here: MSPs deliver a defined set of technology solutions or services to clients on a pay-as-you-go model. Used largely by companies that do not have the IT departments or resources to buy these technologies outright, MSPs are really at the ground floor of cloud technology sales.

And clearly this is a market that has huge potential. Only recently Gartner estimated that this year alone, cloud services would be worth roughly US$ 106 billion and that the market would grow over the next four years so that by 2016 its worth would be over US$ 200 billion annually.

So it is easy to see why IBM is looking at this space. While it has a firm foothold in the large enterprise space, for the past few years Amazon and Salesforce, along with a number of smaller players, have had the run of things in the mid-size enterprise marketplace.

Amazon has been renting computer power for years, while Salesforce.com has used its CXM products and deep market penetration to sell its cloud products to an increasingly wide audience.

IBM Managed Services Providers

To counter that, IBM has built up relationships with MSPs all over the world, and partnered with 1400 of them all of whom will be selling IBM SmartCloud services and its PureSystems offerings that were launched earlier this year.

So what do these partnerships mean for MSPs? Firstly, they will get access to IBM experts and technical skills at four new global centers of excellence in New York, Shanghai, Tokyo and Ehningen in Germany. Additionally, IBM will offer affordable financing options to buy the new technologies. On top of this IBM will provide:

  • Marketing Support: Marketing and sales support that is designed for MSPs to enable them build their brand and create demand for the products. They will also be given access to IBM’s analytics to help them identify new customers.
  • PureSystems: This will provide a new integrated by-design platform for MSPs to tune hardware and software resources for data intensive workloads. The idea is to make PureSystems the platform of choice for MSPs.
  • IBM SmartCloud: They will be able to integrate the SmartCloud as either an IBM solution, or under their own brand. IBM will also help MSPs develop their own data center strategies.

Big Blue is also setting up an MSP partner director, so MSPs can find other partners to collaborate on projects. IBM is devoting part of its US$ 100 million annual marketing budget to these projects.

The move into the MSP mid-size market comes just after IBM announced sponsorship of the new OpenStack foundation, an independent body to promote open source cloud computing. OpenStack will enhance IBM's SmartCloud Foundation offerings. More on this as it happens.