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Swift, OpenWhisk and APIs – Reflections on IBM InterConnect

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TL; DR: IBM’s work around Swift, OpenWhisk and API Connect are worthy of attention.

We had the opportunity to spend last week at IBM InterConnect in Las Vegas. It is a somewhat unusual event, with several older IBM events brought together, but has the definite up side of being very customer focused. As with any conference of this scale there were a myriad of announcements, but for me there are a number of specific highlights to call out, namely Swift, OpenWhisk, API Connect and the new Graph Database Service.

This was also a conference where a number of recent IBM acquisitions were front and centre, including StrongLoop, Compose, CleverSafe and The Weather Channel.

Swift

It is a rare, but very nice, thing to see the keynote of a major technical conference from an established vendor featuring a compiler designer giving a live demo, but that is precisely what we saw with Chris Lattner on stage at InterConnect demoing Swift.

In our most recent programming language rankings we saw Swift move up one place to 17th in our top 20 languages. Given just how young the language is, this movement puts Swift in a very strong position, as noted by my colleague Stephen O’Grady in his analysis of the latest language rankings. From a RedMonk perspective it was nice to see Apple VP of Product Brian Croll quoting Stephen during the keynote:

The popularity of swift, particularly since it was open sourced has been interesting to watch, and it was refreshing to here Brian Croll talk about the governance process that Apple are following.

Make no mistake, Swift on the server side is going to change how people develop mobile apps. As we begin to combine a number of paradigm shifts, such as serverless architectures (more on this a little later) a new class of mobile developers who have traditionally been focused on Objective-C will find a much easier route to the serverside.

IBM is supporting Swift in a number of ways, but among the most strategic, from the serverside Swift perspective, are the contributions to the libdispatch project. Libdispatch is focused around concurrency on multicore hardware and IBM is accounting from almost 50% of the commits. The other major, visible, area is around IBM’s Swift Sandbox offering, which provides an easy entry point for those wishing to play with Swift on the serverside.

At RedMonk we consistently say that the best packager wins each tech wave, and IBM are also very focused around the packaging and package discovery area of Swift with the Swift Package Catalog. It is, however, early days as of yet, and the catalog absolutely needs both API access and integration into the wider tool chain to be useful to a wider audience.

Overall it will be very interesting to see where both the partnership with Apple, and the direct Swift support from IBM, will go.

OpenWhisk

The OpenWhisk project was announced at InterConnect. Alongside AWS Lambda and Google Cloud Functions, OpenWhisk provides another option for those interested in event based programming and serverless architectures. The interesting differentiating point here is that the underlying code has been for OpenWhisk has been opensourced under an Apache 2 license.

There is a general buzz around the serverless approach in a number of development communities, and the mental shift required to move move to this approach not withstanding there is a large section of the developer population who will find this approach both interesting and useful, from those that are already looking at microservices architectures to developers that just don’t want to have to concern themselves with infrastructure.

Making containers a first class citizen of OpenWhisk is very interesting, and a move which takes the direction of serverless architectures into many potentially new directions and combinations. Along side containers native language bindings are already in place for node.js and Swift, and one would imagine that support for other languages such as Java and Python will emerge in time – one just has to recall the cheer AWS CTO Werner Vogels got during last years AWS ReInvent keynote when he announced support for Python in Lambda to see why.

It is very early days for OpenWhisk, but we had the opportunity to spend some time with members of the OpenWhisk team at Interconnect, and came away feeling very positive as too the approach they are taking. From only one option for serverless at the start of the year, developers now have three, and this can only be a good thing. Expect a lot more competition and innovation in this space.

API Connect

I got an in-depth demo of the new API Connect offering during InterConnect. The API Connect product, which is a product of the StrongLoop acquisition IBM made last year,  was pre-announced prior to Interconnect and hits general availability in mid March.

Now there a number of API management products in the market, but what really impressed me with API connect was the breadth of vision and integration. From a developer standpoint this is a nice straight forward tool to work with, which maps into various data sources and allows you to create clean, consistent and documented APIs. However, from an administrative point of view the various integration points really did shine.  The ease at which you could set ratelimits, access controls and so forth in a consistent manner that ties into other policies will no doubt appeal to people across the gambit of potential users and business owners, from product managers all the way through to CIOs.

As we all know documentation is both absolutely vital and viewed by many developers as a proverbial pain. API Connect generates documentation that conforms to the Swagger/Open API specification, with the requisite examples, language snippets and so forth put in place automatically. These may seem like small things, but they are a big win.

Data

There were a number of data related announcements earlier this month, but IBM took the opportunity to highlight them once again. The ones that I have found really interesting are

IBM Graph

IBM Graph  is a graph database service built on Apache TinkerPop. While TinkerPop is not a very widely known project, it provides a really nice interface for interacting with Graphs via the Gremlin graph traversal approach (I use approach rather than language here, as you see examples in various languages). TinkerPop has moved to being an Apache project relatively recently, with a lot of support from IBM which the TinkerPop team themselves have acknowledged.

The obvious competitor in this space are Neo4J,  OrientDB,  ArrangoDB and Cayley from Google. GrapheneDB provide Neo4J as a service on AWS and Azure, so it will be interesting to see if IBM manage to tempt customers away or if the focus will be on enabling existing IBM clients to begin using graph databases.

Compose

Compose was acquired by IBM last year , and provide database as a service offerings for  MongoDB, ElasticSearch, etcd, redis and more. Their original service is continuing uninterrupted, and it is a real positive to see AWS being supported in the new enterprise offering alongside SoftLayer.

Other Interesting Bits

CleverSafe

IBM completed the acquisition of CleverSafe last November, and InterConnect marked CleverSafe’s first significant unveiling as an IBM company.  Now as my colleague James likes to point out I am very, very storage curious, and CleverSafe is a company I have followed with interest for a long time.

While there was nothing particularly revolutionary announced around CleverSafes existing product portfolio, the hybrid cloud solution that is being put in place using SoftLayer is a key part of the wider IBM hybrid strategy for their customers. Having CleverSafes technology underpin this will provide a sound technical base.

VMWare Partnership

IBM’s Robert LeBlanc and Carl Eschenbach of VMWare got up on stage. The precise details of this partnership have yet to filter through, but at a high level we will see unified management, billing and SLA for IBM and VMWare customers using IBM cloud offerings.

Blockchain

The ongoing investment from IBM in Blockchain technologies continues apace. IBM see massive opportunities for disruption with this technology, and given how closely aligned they are with industries which are most likely to be disrupted (think finance or insurance for example) it makes sense for IBM to be heavily involved in areas such as Hyperledger.

Management

We also had the opportunity to spend some time with IBMs management team over cloud offerings. The biggest take away here is seeing leaders who have arrived via acquisition taking very senior roles within IBM. Most notable to my mind are Derek Schoettle, formerly CEO of Cloudant, who is now leading the analytics platform and cloud data services and David Kenny, former CEO of The Weather Channel, now leading the Watson team.

Disclosure: IBM paid my travel and expenses for Interconnect 2016. IBM, Amazon, Neo4j and VMWare are RedMonk clients.

2 comments

  1. […] IBM made a series of announcements at its Interconnect conference, intended to demonstrate relevance in the cloud era – with the likes of VMware, Apple and Github. My colleague Fintan offers a summary here. […]

  2. Thank you for a great article. Especially interesting for me, since I was not able to join Interconnect this year.

    Please note that your Swift link does not point to open source Swift (Swift.org), but the parallel scripting Swift.

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