IBM clarifies Cognos 10 Cloud strategy

With all the attention around what applications are moving to the Cloud and how those applications will work, IBM has  clarified its own plans around Cognos. Last month, I said that they were planning to create a Business Intelligence as a Service application. This was based on comments made by people from IBM. It now appears that IBM is not planning that at all. So what is it doing?

IBM Cognos 10 Image
To make it easy for customers to move to Cognos 10 on the IBM Cloud, IBM created a Cognos 10 image that customers can use for rapid deployment. According to Harriet Fryman, IBM Product Marketing and Strategy, Business Analytics, the image not only includes Cognos 10 but also includes all the tools customers would normally buy to install and configure Cognos.

Who is it for?
Fryman says that IBM is targeting two groups of customers. The first is brand new organisations moving to Business Intelligence for the first time. The route IBM is offering them is that they buy into Platform as a Service on the IBM Cloud and then implement the Cognos 10 Cloud image.

The second group are existing customers who are either looking to shift new projects to the Cloud or who want to migrate their existing BI infrastructure to the Cloud.

One of the surprises in talking with Fryman was understanding how IBM was going to licence Cognos 10 from a Cloud perspective. IBM has been talking about using licence tokens that you can buy in bulk and then apply to any product. Some products may need a single token and others may require multiple tokens to use.

At the same time, IBM has stressed that you will be able to take your existing licences to any IBM software running on the IBM Cloud. Fryman put that in context for Cognos 10 by saying that customers would be able to take their per user licences to the Cloud, but the Cognos 10 Cloud image would need a separate licence agreement.

Not sure that I agree with this. If, as an existing IBM customer I want to move my existing Cognos implementation to Cognos on the IBM Cloud, I can’t see why IBM would not allow me to migrate the licence rather than force me to buy a whole new licence. This seems a little mean spirited by IBM and perhaps needs a little more thought.

One of the concerns that a lot of companies have with moving to the Cloud is security. BI has come a long way over the last decade in allowing workable security to be applied to data without making it too hard for users to extract data and work with it.

IBM has been talking up its security portfolio, especially around the Cloud and Fryman was asked how IBM intended to apply federated security from organisations in-house solutions to Cognos 10 on the IBM Cloud platform.

Fryman said “Security is near and dear to everyone in IT and we already have guidance for customers. It’s not just one straightforward answer but a mix of things. Security is with the dataset itself and then around the rights for an individual user to gain access.” Fryman went on to talk about the book that IBM released at the Cognos 10 launch that has a lot of detail on security.

The problem for IBM is that it hasn’t yet integrated the federated security products into Cognos 10. This means that customers will have to buy security from other parts of IBM. Once that is done, they will have to work out how to integrate what they buy for the IBM Cloud and how it will link with their existing security systems. For very large enterprises, this should be something that their own teams can handle but for a lot of the new customers IBM is targeting, there is a risk of large consultancy bills either from IBM or a System Integrator.

There is another option, leaving the data on your own site while the Cognos tools sit in the Cloud. This would remove the need for federated security from a database perspective. However, it would introduce another challenge, latency.

One of the problems with applications is that they have built-in time-outs to ensure that they do not sit forever doing nothing. If the link between the application and the data is not good enough, this can cause applications to regularly time-out causing a lot of user problems.

While admitting to not being a latency expert, Fryman did say that customers should use the Dynamic Query Analyser in Cognos 10 to see how queries were performing. The DQA can be used in both test and production mode and provides support teams, DBA’s and developers with a graphic of where the query is hitting performance.

Rights management and mobile devices
Another part of the security problem is securing the data once it has been sent to the user. There has been a massive take-up of mobile devices among management who want data and dashboards pushed to their latest device. The problem is not just supporting a wide range of devices but also protecting the data once it is off the main servers.

Here again, Fryman admitted that the Cognos team didn’t have the tools inside their product but pointed out that this wasn’t their remit. Fryman also pointed to other parts of IBM that do have the rights tool to protect data and said that the Business Analytics unit was looking at what tools were available and how they could leverage them.

While this stops short of promising some form of rights management, it is, at least, a step in the right direction.

On the subject of mobile devices, especially with the surge in tablets, Fryman said that the iPad is currently only able to consume data if it is connected to the network. While this may change, there was nothing that Fryman was able to announce or provide a timescale for.

With the Blackberry , however, IBM does have a client side application that provides security around the data. Fryman says that it is unique to the user and is required whenever they want to see a report that has been downloaded.

Fryman said that IBM did recognise the need to support mobile but that the challenge with mobile was both the diverse nature of the interaction with the device and the adoption curve of devices. IBM, she said, will build tools and clients based on what is getting deployed.

While Fryman was able to clarify a number of things about the delivery of Cognos 10 on the IBM Cloud it is clear that there is still a lot for IBM to resolve internally. The most important is ensuring that the federated security tools are part of the Cognos 10 image. After that, resolving the issue of licensing is equally important if customers are not left feeling just a little cheated about not being able to exchange their existing licenses for a Cognos 10 Cloud image