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Microsoft, IBM Ink Cloud Compatibility Deal

Microsoft and IBM on Wednesday said they are partnering to ensure that some of their respective database and middleware offerings can run on both the IBM Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

Coming to Azure are IBM's WebSphere Liberty application server platform, MQ middleware and DB2 database. IBM's Pure Application Service will also run on Azure. In exchange, Windows Server and SQL Server will work on the IBM Cloud, which is based on the SoftLayer public cloud IBM acquired last year for $2 billion. Both companies are collaborating to provide Microsoft's .NET runtime for IBM's new Bluemix cloud development platform.

While the IBM Cloud already supports Microsoft's Hyper-V, IBM said it will add expanded support for the virtualization platform that's included in Windows Server.

The companies did not say when the offerings announced would be available.

It was not immediately clear how the deal will improve Hyper-V support on the IBM Cloud, which, according to Andrew Brust, a research director at Gigaom Research, does run a significant amount of Hyper-V instances.

"They explained to me that they have a 'non-trivial' amount of Windows business and that they support Hyper-V VMs," Brust said. "With that in mind, the announcement makes sense, especially when you consider [Microsoft CEO] Satya [Nadella]'s comment on Monday that Azure will 'compose' with other clouds," he added, referring to a Microsoft press event earlier this week during which Nadella articulated Microsoft's strategy to build Azure into a "hyperscale" cloud.

"We are not building our hyperscale cloud in Azure in isolation," Nadella said at the event.  "We are building it to compose well with other clouds."

Nadella spelled out recent efforts to do that, including last week's announcement that Microsoft is working with Docker to develop Docker containers for Windows Server, its support for native Java via its Oracle partnership (which, as with IBM, includes its database and middleware offerings), as well as broad support for other languages, including PHP, Python and Node.js.

"This is just a subset of the open source, as well as other middle-tier frameworks and languages, that are supported on Azure," Nadella said.

Most analysts agree that Amazon, Microsoft and Google operate the world's largest cloud infrastructures. However, with SoftLayer, IBM also has a formidable public cloud. Both IBM and Microsoft are seeing considerable growth with their respective cloud offerings but have reasonably sized holes to fill, as well.

Nadella said Monday that Microsoft has a $4.4 billion cloud business -- a small but rapidly growing fraction of its overall revenues. For its part, IBM said on its earnings call Monday that its public cloud infrastructure is in a $3.1 billion run rate and its overall cloud business is up 50 percent, though its overall earnings were considered a spectacular miss. The company's shares have tumbled in recent days and analysts are questioning whether the company needs a reboot similar to the one former CEO Lou Gerstner gave it two decades ago.

"Overall, this looks like a marriage of equals where both stand to gain by working harmoniously together," said PundIT analyst Charles King. Forrester Research analyst James Staten agreed. "IBM and Microsoft both need each other in this regard, so a nice quid quo pro here," he said.

For Microsoft, the deal with IBM is the latest in a spate of cloud partnerships. In addition to its partnership with Oracle last year, Microsoft this year inked a once-unthinkable cloud partnership with Salesforce.com. Just this week, Microsoft announced it has tapped Dell to deliver its latest offering -- the new Cloud Platform System, which it described as an "Azure-consistent cloud in a box" that it will begin offering to customers next month.

It also appears that IBM and Microsoft held back some of their crown jewels in this partnership. There was no mention of IBM's Watson or Big SQL, which is part of its InfoSphere Platform on Hadoop, based on a Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS). Likewise, the announcement doesn't seem to cover Microsoft's Azure Machine Learning or AzureHDInsight offerings.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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