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IBM looks to outsmart Big Data competition with Watson

Thor Olavsrud | Jan. 15, 2014
IBM is seeking to jump ahead of the big data technology competition by moving its Watson cognitive supercomputer to the cloud and offering up its capabilities as a set of big data services and a big data application development platform.

While IBM characterized the price as affordable, particularly in the healthcare vertical Big Blue was targeting, the alternative was a Hadoop cluster built with open source software and commodity servers. Scaling with commodity hardware is a very different proposition from scaling with big-ticket servers.

"There are several reasons for such stunted growth, but the biggest may simply be that IBM is a luxury in a world of commoditized, open-source big data analytics," says Matt Assay, vice president of business development and corporate strategy at MongoDB. "Why pay millions for Watson when you can run Hadoop for free?"

In addition, Assay notes that the WSJ found that the way Watson learns means that IBM's engineers have to learn the technicalities of a customer's business and translate them for Watson.

"In other words, Watson is like hiring an expensive data scientist, except not nearly as thoughtful," Assay says. "Far better for the customers in question to learn Hadoop or other big data technologies and ask questions of the data themselves than to pay both for IBM's expensive consultants and its big data technology, which happens to be Hadoop under the covers, anyway."

Finally, Assay asks, where are the developers? He calls Watson's lack of a developer ecosystem its "most glaring omission."

Big Blue Seeking to Answer Doubts with New IBM Watson Group
With the new Watson Group, IBM is aiming to turn all that around. The group, which IBM will scale up to 2,000 employees, is set to develop and run cloud-based cognitive applications and services on behalf of enterprise users.

IDC's Schubmehl says the current Watson cloud service can support millions of users, supports dialog chaining for input, can ingest and train in hours and supports a broad industry corpus of knowledge.

Big Blue has earmarked a $1 billion investment for the group, including $100 million for investing in startup companies building applications that will run on its new Watson Developer Cloud, a cloud-hosted marketplace to application providers developing Watson-powered apps. The Developer Cloud will support the Watson Ecosystem, which is a cloud-based implementation of Watson that partners and third-party developers can use to embed cognitive capabilities into new or existing applications.

Watson Ecosystem
"We're investing $1 billion in this over the next few years," Rhodin says. "We're going to share Watson with the world. Eras are not ours alone. We just happen to have a history of shepherding them and bringing them to the entire world. We make markets. And that's what we're going to do."

"We recognize that the power of this technology is really what it can do for everyone," he adds. "To get to everyone, we need help. We need an ecosystem. We need partners. We think everyone that decides to join us is going to change the world."


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