AI is more accessible than ever, but cloud provider lock-in has stunted its growth
At this point, talking about AI’s potential across industry verticals is a tiresome repetition of a widely accepted truth. Businesses across the scale know that AI will transform their operations… Especially when it converges with other technologies like cloud computing.
However, until recently, businesses have been limited in their experiments with AI and cloud based data by cloud provider lock-in. This means that data stored with different providers can’t be aggregated. As data is increasingly stored across a range of locations and hybrid cloud environments, companies need to be able to apply AI across their storage options. While cloud providers are under pressure to become more open, AI itself must also be compatible with different cloud platforms.
AI and the cloud: Watson the agenda?
IBM’s Watson Anywhere was developed in direct response to this problem. The service was built on top of open source software from Kubernetes, ultimately allowing customers to connect data regardless of where it is stored. Watson Anywhere also offers a suite of microservices including Watson Openscale and Watson Assistant. Openscale is an open AI platform that manages multiple AI applications no matter where they were developed, while Assistant helps companies to build conversational interfaces like virtual customer assistants.
The announcement of Watson Anywhere at the THINK 2019 conference represents a major move towards AI accessibility and the improvement of cloud computing, and heralds the next phase in the widespread deployment of artificial intelligence.
The democratisation of AI by a large, legacy business is noteworthy. IBM is a well respected, trusted name – and, partly thanks to its high profile gaming wins of the early 2000s, so is Watson. Not only will this make customers more likely to trust the expansion of AI, but it will encourage other businesses to develop similar services. In order to keep up, other companies can be expected to follow suit. Google, for example, also worked with Kubernetes to develop the Google Cloud platform.
AI access is widening, but the challenge is working out how to turn this to one’s advantage. For small to medium enterprises, Watson Anywhere can help them understand and apply AI. But for IBM’s direct competitors, the race is on. The company’s announcement directly challenges the frustrating trend of cloud lock-in, and calls for providers to give customers the freedom to connect data across locations. In theory, this will lead to increasingly flexible and transparent data analysis, which is universally beneficial and, in many ways, necessary to digital business.
Serving the business case
Watson Anywhere is particularly significant in the development of AI as a service, whereby any company can tap into the AI capabilities of a provider and apply it to their specific business requirements. Cloud providers are gearing up to offer artificially intelligent services that remove the need for clients to create their own custom software. It’s good news for the client and great news for the vendor, as they expand their customer base and have a stake in more AI applications. What the universal merging of AI and cloud platforms will do is open this up to more businesses and fuel a healthy, competitive market.
In time, Watson Anywhere may provide a springboard for AI everywhere. Backed by the trusted IBM brand, it is another steady step towards AI as a service. From a brand perspective, Watson Anywhere is likely to strengthen IBM’s position as a leader in AI. But on a more general scale, it demonstrates the need for holistic, transparent technology in a world driven by data.
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