IBM Makes Watson Available Across Amazon, Microsoft, and Google Clouds

For years, IBM has offered corporate customers its Watson data-crunching technology – but only if they used it on IBM’s cloud computing service. Now, to expand Watson’s reach, IBM is also making it available on competing cloud services.

IBM said recently that it would allow businesses to use some of IBM’s Watson-related software with underlying data that is stored in rival cloud data centers like Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon Web Services. Customers will also be able to use Watson with data stored in their own data centers.

“It is enabling a level of openness that hasn’t been available to date,” said Rob Thomas, IBM general manager of data and AI.

The move marks a departure for IBM, which, until now, hasn’t seemed anything but open with its cloud computing service and Watson technologies. In 2016, for example, then-IBM CFO and current IBM senior vice president of global markets Martin Schroeter told analysts during an earnings call, “Watson runs on our cloud, and our technology will run on IBM’s cloud.”

But IBM is now shaking up its strategy to broaden Watson’s appeal. The change of heart comes as IBM’s public cloud languishes in third place, at best, in terms of market share behind AWS and Microsoft Azure.

Dan Kirsch, a research analyst at Hurwitz & Associates, called IBM’s new service “really significant” because businesses are increasingly seeking technology that’s not dependent on a single vendor.

Nick Patience, a founder and research vice president for 451 Research, said the move is “an acknowledgment by IBM that it’s a hybrid cloud world,” referring to firms wanting to use more than one cloud computing vendor as well as keeping some software running in their internal data centers.

 “We are confident in the IBM cloud that if clients try our products anywhere, they will eventually be drawn to IBM cloud and the uniqueness it provides,” said Thomas.

Although companies are concerned about being locked into a specific company’s cloud infrastructure when it comes to particular software and IT products, Patience said they are currently in the early stages of using AI and are still willing to upload their corporate data to cloud services like AWS and rely on them for machine learning software. Being locked into a particular vendor when it comes to machine learning projects isn’t yet much of a concern, but IBM is betting that will change.

He continued: “You could say IBM is trying to take back the initiative in machine learning here. The Watson brand has lost a little bit of luster over the years as others have come along. They are trying to take it back.”

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