Comcast Business offers direct connection to IBM Cloud network

Comcast joins Verizon, AT&T and others as it seeks more large enterprise customers

Comcast Business announced Thursday it now offers direct, dedicated network links to the IBM Cloud global network.

The move positions Comcast Business, a unit of Comcast, to compete against AT&T, Verizon, Bell Canada and telecom service providers already offering IBM Cloud Direct Link services.

Comcast Business already claims to be the nation's biggest cable provider to small and mid-sized businesses. The IBM partnership could be a way for Comcast Business to grow, especially among larger businesses and enterprises.

Enterprises will have "more choices for connectivity so they can store data, optimize their workloads and execute mission-critical applications in the cloud, whether it be on-premise, off-premise or a combination of the two," said Jeff Lewis, vice president of data services at Comcast Business, in a statement. Customers can select speeds up to 10 gigabits/second.

Other than the price of connectivity and the ability to potentially offer lower prices than AT&T and Verizon, analysts said they aren't sure what Comcast is providing enterprise customers that is distinct. Neither Comcast nor IBM announced pricing.

"Business services is the only area of substantial growth at Comcast right now," said Bill Menezes, an analyst at Gartner. "It makes sense for Comcast to align with as many major partners as possible so their customers see Comcast as a significant, broad player who can meet their requirements across major regions and services. Cloud is a major demand item for the enterprise right now and Comcast doesn't want to miss out on business by having too few customer options.''

The same can be said for IBM as well. "IBM is trying to connect with all the major carriers and network connectors to ensure that they are not shut out of the enterprise cloud business," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "IBM sees this partnership as potential leverage, particularly against the likes of Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and AWS, which have a larger share of the enterprise cloud market than IBM does."

Gold said IBM also wants to appeal to mid-sized companies that are less likely to have their own dedicated networks and more likely to outsource that capability to carriers and cable providers. "This is a potentially easier path for such businesses when they go to the cloud," he said.

IBM is saying to their customers that "we are making the connection part of cloud really easy for you," Gold added.

Some enterprise customers can be expected to buy the Direct Link service from Comcast Business, Gold said. "Enterprises definitely need help with cloud implementations and anything that can make it easier for them is a good thing," he said.

Still, the bigger question is whether IBM can be the cloud provider of choice "given that so many enterprises are Microsoft-centric and have Azure on their minds as the preferred path," Gold added. Microsoft has made the transition to Azure easier with its Azure Stack, an on-premises version of Azure cloud.

"Also, Google is pushing hard in the enterprise area now," Gold said.

An IDC survey recently showed that 73% of businesses in that survey have developed a hybrid strategy, compared to only 13% that said they have all the skills and processes in place to execute on that strategy. IBM said a secure and dedicated connection to its cloud service, like what Comcast Business is offering, will allow enterprises to easily preserve their existing IT investments while transitioning to a hybrid cloud environment. There, they can build next-generation cognitive computing and services around the internet of things.

IBM has a global network of more than 50 data centers across 19 countries, while Comcast Business boasts that its network connects to nearly 500 data centers and cloud exchanges for access to multiple cloud providers.

Comcast Business and IBM said a direct connection to the cloud will help with better performance, security and availability, especially compared with doing business over the open internet. Comcast Business, like many others, offers customers a service level agreement -- a contract that states such things as the level of network reliability, up-time and other factors.

Most companies are evaluating how to get to the cloud and for the next few years will build hybrid approaches that rely on both on-premises and public cloud servers, Gold said. "Comcast and all the carriers and internet service providers want to jump on the bandwagon that is cloud," he added.

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