IBM: API and “Cloud-First” Approach Key to Business Success in the App Economy

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We live in a new generation that is always asking “Is there an app for that?” said Mac Devine, CTO of IBM Cloud Services in his Tuesday morning keynote at LinuxCon and CloudOpen Europe in Edinburgh. Consumers want easy access to data and information and they want it right now. 

To survive in this new mobile economy businesses must be able to deploy applications and data when and wherever they want, he said. Next-generation cloud platforms provide the infrastructure for this service, but the true key to success is making that platform available to others as an API for spontaneous innovation. Through the API, businesses can use and expose their data to engage customers in strategic ways.

Mac Devine and Rich Miller "A cloud service is only as good as its API," Devine said. “If you're going to do something innovative but it's invisible to the open ecosystem, it's not going to do anybody any good.”

This requires a different way of thinking than the traditional enterprise IT approach, however, in which managers determine the architecture and products are developed over several months and perfected before they are released. A “cloud-first” approach is faster and it empowers developers to determine the direction the technology takes, he said.

It also gives customers access to the service much earlier in the development process. Putting a service out quickly, within a few weeks, with limited investment allows for early feedback on a product and more rapid innovation. But it can also fail miserably.

“Cloud-first” business challenges

Adapting to this new way of doing business is a challenge.  At IBM it required a complete change in the DNA of the business, Devine said, a process he called “gene therapy.”

IBM’s acquisition of SoftLayer eased the transition because the company was built from the ground-up with that cloud-first approach in mind, he said. Their infrastructure is flexible, with the ability to provide bare metal servers as well as virtual machines.

Before the hard work of setting up the processes and architectures to provide an API and cloud services, developers must first convince business managers that cloud-first is the right approach.

“It's hard for people to give up control -- to open up your technology and let people do with it what they want,” agreed Steve Chambers, CTO of Canopy Cloud, during the panel discussion following Devine’s talk.

To lay the groundwork with IT managers, Rich Miller, a big data and cloud consultant on the panel, recommended addressing the real or perceived lack of security that managers fear when it comes to opening up a company’s data. You must safely manage the jurisdictions of where data can and cannot live, he said.

“If you present it safely, you can allow each department to build their own services without endangering the whole,” Miller said.

And finally, instead of opening up all of a company’s data and services, choose the ones that you are best able to support and make the most strategic sense, Devine said. Even offering 60 percent of your services is a good goal, he said. This makes it more manageable.

“Just do it in a way that fails quickly and recovers quickly,” he said. “Plan for adaptability.”