IBM Watson will now run on third-party clouds like Amazon Web Services


(IBM Photo)

Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence service, is taking its act on the road.

IBM plans to announce later Tuesday at its IBM Think conference in San Francisco that Watson will soon be available as a service on Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud among others. Customers interested in doing so will be able to connect data stored in any of those clouds or in private data centers to Watson through IBM Cloud Private for Data, which already runs on multiple clouds.

Watson has been arguably the crown jewel of IBM’s enterprise tech arsenal over the last few years, and that tells you just about everything you need to know about where IBM sits in the broader cloud market. Buttressed by an inexhaustible marketing budget for years upon years, Watson has nonetheless done very little to stem the tide of CIOs looking for modern partners to AWS, and users have found its performance as an AI service questionable at best.

IBM was the only major cloud company to lose share in the fourth quarter of 2018. (Synergy Research Graphic)

And as more and more companies move data onto those other cloud services, services like Watson become a tougher sell. Almost every tech company makes it very easy to get data into their services and very difficult to get it out, which is especially tough for an AI service that relies on huge pools of data from which to extract the valuable insights they promise.

That means companies trying out AI services tend to use the ones provided by their cloud vendor, which IBM called “vendor lock-in” in a press release. One of the more amusing aspects of the modern cloud era has been the use of “lock-in” by companies like IBM and Oracle as a cudgel against AWS, decades after those two companies perfected the lock-in business model.

But unlike Oracle, which still doesn’t really seem to understand how to transition into a world in which it no longer occupies such a prominent place, recent IBM moves suggest it has at least acknowledged that we’re not going back to that earlier era. IBM CEO Ginni Rommety will likely be judged on whether or not the $34 billion purchase of Red Hat revives IBM’s hopes of helping companies revamp their tech infrastructure for the cloud era, and freeing Watson from IBM’s walled garden signals that it is willing to meet future customers where they are.

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