IBM Cloud Content, Charges, and Delivery for Developer Teams

Note: I updated this a day or two after the original posting, as people sent me some good links to other resources that I wanted to share.

I have been getting this question constantly for the past month, and I have to do a presentation on it for one of my customers, so I figured that it is probably a good topic to share with a wider audience.  I am going to talk about how IBM Cloud customers can organize, manage, and use the IBM Cloud to develop applications and services, which they then can deliver to their customers.

First the Basics

First we need to cover the basics.  I have discussed the basic organization of an IBM Cloud account in my earlier post, “Bluemix and Watson – Getting Started Right” (Note that the IBM Cloud used to be called “Bluemix”).  In that article, I show you the basic organization of an IBM Cloud Account, it’s Organizations, and the Spaces underneath those organizations.  Most of our customers will organize their Accounts/Organizations/Spaces along the lines shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – A Typical Enterprise Account Structure

Note that right now there is no support for the concept of an Enterprise Account (or a parent of multiple IBM Cloud accounts), but when that capability DOES become available, I would see it being used as shown in the diagram above.  Now let’s look at what happens when you begin a project.

Launching a Project

When launching a project, you need to determine a few different things.  The most important piece is to figure out what KIND of a project you have.  I will divide projects into 4 major categories for the purposes of this conversation, and they are:

  • Internal Projects – projects that are done by your software development teams, and provide systems/applications for your organization.  This includes internal POCs, and other “exploratory” and “innovation” work.
  • Product Projects – projects that are done by your software development teams, that provide systems/applications that you market and sell as a product.  These products/services are then exposed or delivered to your customers.
  • Hosted Projects – projects that are done by your software development teams, that provide systems/applications that you host and maintain for a single customer.  This may also include products where you host unique copies (instances) for different customers.  Think of your favorite SaaS product.
  • Turnkey Projects – projects that are done by your software development teams, that provide systems/applications that you finish development on, and then deliver to your customer.

These project types are all going to require slightly different deployment and work environments.  The setup for each of these is based on the type of project, and the way that you need to react to and handle a couple of basic limitations that you need to be aware of.

The first limitation we will call the Billing Endpoint limitation.  It’s pretty simple, the bill for your Cloud services goes to the account owner – and nobody else.  So you need to be aware of the charges to any given account, how you will handle those charges (what one entity will pay for them), and how you will pass those charges along to your internal and external customers.

The second limitation is the Resource Portability limitation.  This one is pretty simple too.  You cannot “move” or “relocate” a service from one organization/space to a different organization/space in the IBM Cloud.  In order to move something from one environment to another, you need to recreate that service in the new environment in the same way that you did in the first environment.  This forces us to be disciplined in our software development – and brings us to our next section.

Importance of DevOps Tooling

The resource portability limitation means that we need to be able to recreate any cloud resource instance in some type of automated manner, in any environment we choose.  This demands a solid change management strategy, and solid DevOps tooling that can create the services and applications in your various IBM Cloud environments.

One way to do this is to use the DevOps Toolchains that are available on the IBM Cloud.  These toolchains are easy to use.  You can customize them to use tools that are “Cloud native” on the IBM Cloud, or you can use your own tools and processes.

A healthy Cloud development and deployment environment is strongly dependent on the DevOps environment that is supporting it.  Tools, standards, and automation can help development teams follow better engineering practices, and can help you deliver projects and products more quickly.  If you’re unfamiliar with DevOps, I suggest you Google it and read some of the stuff from Gene Kim, Sanjeev Sharma, Mik Kersten or Eric Minnick.

So keep in mind that setting up a DevOps framework and some administrative automation for your Cloud should be one of the first things that you do.  Investments supporting the automation of projects will pay huge dividends, and allow your teams to easily launch, execute, and retire projects in your Cloud environment.

Handling Projects

So now that I have convinced you that you need to invest some time and effort building up your DevOps capabilities on the Cloud, let’s get back to the main question of this blog post.  “How do I organize projects and content, and handle the financial aspects for these projects?”.

Handling Internal Projects

Internal projects are organized in the same way that I discuss in my earlier post, “Bluemix and Watson – Getting Started Right“.  The account level is a subscription owned by the Enterprise, and projects are run as Organizations in the Account, and the Spaces under those organizations represent the various different environments supported by a project (like development, test, QA, staging, production, etc.).

Figure 2 – Internal Project Organization

This project is going to be developed internally, and it will be deployed internally.  So our need to separate the “billing” is only from an internal perspective.  Since we can see billing at the organization and space levels (see Administering Your IBM Cloud Account – A Script to Help), it should be relatively simple to determine any chargebacks that you might want to do with your internal costs.

You’ll use the DevOps capabilities we discussed earlier to quickly establish the automation of continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) capabilities.  Teams can do development and can set up pipelines to deliver their project to staging environments, where operations teams can test the deployment and deliver to production environments.  This environment is straightforward and simple because we don’t need to worry about billing issues, and we don’t need to worry about visibility or ownership issues.  Things get more interesting with our other project types.

Handling Product Projects and Hosted Projects

Product and Hosted projects are organized in the same way, even though they are slightly different types of situations.  In these cases I recommend the use of a second IBM Cloud account.  The established Enterprise account that is already established (as described in the section on Internal Projects), should continue to be used for the development of this project.  This project is going to be developed internally, and we will track costs internally.  So our need to separate the “billing” from an internal perspective.  Since we can see billing at the organization and space levels, it should be relatively simple to determine any chargebacks that you need to do for this project.

Figure 3 – Hosted Project and Product Project Organization

You will still have development and test spaces for your project, but you will NOT have production, pre-production or staging areas.  You will use your DevOps capabilities to deliver your project to a different account/organization/space.

In the case of a product that you are hosting for general usage, you will deploy to a specific IBM Cloud account that has been created for the express purpose of hosting production versions of your product (or for the deployment of Kubernetes clusters that are running your product).  Your operations team will have access to this account, and these production environments, ensuring a separation of duties for your deployed products.

In the case of a product that you are hosting for usage by a specific customer, you will deploy to a specific IBM Cloud account that has been created for the express purpose of hosting production applications for that customer. Your operations team will have access to this account, ensuring a well defined set of duties for your hosted products.  This approach also allows you to easily collect any billing information for your customer.

Handling Turnkey Projects

Turnkey projects are organized almost exactly the same way as a hosted project, with two simple differences.  Just like a hosted project, you will need to create a new IBM Cloud account for the work being delivered.

Figure 4 – Turnkey Project Organization

The first big difference is that you are going to either have your customer own the new IBM Cloud account from it’s creation, or transfer ownership of the account to your customer.  Make sure that you are clear about who owns (and pays for) the various environments, and the timing of any account reassignment.

The second difference is that the new account may have more than just production spaces – since your customer will need development and test spaces to be able to do maintenance and further development of the application or system being delivered.

Things To Remember

Now that we’ve covered how to organize content and environments for project delivery, it’s time to remind you about some of key details that you will need to remember to make sure that your IBM Cloud development efforts go as smoothly as possible.

  • Make sure that you have a solid DevOps strategy.  This is key to being able to deliver project assets to specific environments.
  • Make sure that you have solid naming conventions and Administrative procedures.  These should be automated as much as possible (just like your DevOps support for development).  For some guidance on setting up roles and DevOps pipelines, check out some of these best practices for organizing users, teams and applications.
  • Know how you will set up your project – since this will have an impact on the contracts and costing that you have for your IBM Cloud hosted project.

 

Advertisements

Administering Your IBM Cloud Account – A script to help

Note: This post has been edited and updated multiple times, and the most recent and accurate copy of this post can be found on the IBM developerWorks website, in a blog post titled, Administering Your IBM Cloud Account – A script to help.

As many of you know, if I have to do something more than two or three times, I tend to put in some effort to script it.  I know a lot of what I can do on the command line with the IBM Cloud, but I don’t always remember the exact syntax for all of those bx command line commands.  I also like to have something that I can call from the command line, so I can just script up common administrative scenarios.

Other Options

There are some options which already exist out there.  I wasn’t aware of some of them, and none of them allow for scripting access.  One of the best that I have seen is the interactive application discussed in the blog post on Real-Time Billing Insights From Your IBM Cloud Account, written by Maria Borbones Garcia.  Her Billing Insights app is already deployed out on Bluemix.  It’s nice –  suggest you go and try it out.  She also points you to her mybilling project on GitHub, which means that you can download and deploy this app for yourself (and even contribute to the project).  Another project that I have seen is the My Console project, which will show a different view of your IBM Cloud account.

Why Create a Script?

This all came home to me this past week as I began to administer a series of accounts associated with a Beta effort at IBM (which I’ll probably expand upon once the closed beta is complete).  I have 20 different IBM Cloud accounts, and I need to manage the billing, users, and policies for each of these accounts.  I can do it all from the console, but that can take time, and I can make mistakes.  The other thing that I thought of was that I often get questions from our customers about, “How do I track what my users are using, and what our current bill is?”.  So that led me to begin writing up a Python script that would allow you to quickly and easily do these types of things.

So I began to develop the IBM_Cloud_Admin tool, which you can see the code for in its GitHub repository.  Go ahead and download a copy of it from GitHub.  This is a simple Python script, and it just executes a bunch of IBM Cloud CLI commands for you.  If you go through a session and then look at your logfile, you can see all the specific command line commands issued, and see the resulting output from those commands.  This allows you to do things in this tool, and then quickly look in the log file and strip out the commands that YOU need for your own scripts.

How To Use The Script

To run the script, you can just type in:

python IBM_Cloud_Admin.py -t apiKey.json

The script has a few different modes it can run in.

  • If you use the -t flag, it will use an API Key file, which you can get from your IBM Cloud account, to log into the IBM Cloud.  This is the way that I like to use it.
  • If you don’t use the -t flag, you’ll need to supply a username and password for your IBM Cloud account using the -u and -p flags.
  • If you use the -b flag (for billing information), then you will run in batch mode.  This will get billing information for the account being logged into, and then quit.  You can use this mode in a script, since it does not require any user input.
  • If you don’t use the -b flag (for billing information), then you will run in interactive mode.  This will display menus on the command line that you can choose from.

The Output Files

There are a number of output files from this tool.  There is the IBM_Cloud_Admin.output.log file, which contains a log of your session and will show you the IBM Cloud command line commands issued by the tool, and the responses returned.  This is a good way to get familiar with the IBM Cloud command line commands, so you can use them in custom scripts for your own use. 

You may also see files with names like, MyProj_billing _summary.csv and MyProj_billing _by_org.json.  These are billing reports that you generated from the tool.  Here is a list of the reports, and what they contain.

  • MyProj_billing _summary.csv – this CSV file contains billing summary data for your account for the current month.
  • MyProj_billing _summary.json – this JSON file contains billing summary data for your account for the current month.  It shows the raw JSON output from the IBM Cloud CLI.
  • MyProj_billing _by_org.csv – this CSV file contains billing details data for your account, split out by org and space, for the current month.
  • MyProj_billing _by_org.json – this JSON file contains billing details data for your account, split out by org and space, for the current month.  It shows the raw JSON output from the IBM Cloud CLI.
  • MyProj_annual_billing _summary.csv – this CSV file contains billing summary data for your account for the past year.
  • MyProj_annual_billing _summary.json – this JSON file contains billing summary data for your account for the past year.  It shows the raw JSON output from the IBM Cloud CLI.
  • MyProj_annual_billing _by_org.csv – this CSV file contains billing details data for your account, split out by org and space, for the past year.
  • MyProj_annual_billing _by_org.json – this JSON file contains billing details data for your account, split out by org and space, for the past year.  It shows the raw JSON output from the IBM Cloud CLI.

Use the JSON output files as inputs to further processing that you might want to do of your IBM Cloud usage data.  The CSV files can be used as inputs to spreadsheets and pivot tables that you can build that will show you details on usage from an account perspective, as well as from an organization and space perspective.

Getting Your Api Key File

I’ve mentioned the API key file a couple of times here.  If you are not familiar with what an API Key file is, then you’ll want to read this section.  An API Key is a small text file which contains some JSON based information, which when used properly with the IBM Cloud command line tool, will allow anyone to log into the IBM Cloud environment as a particular user, without having to supply a password.  The API Key file is your combined username/password.  Because of this, do NOT share API keyfiles with others, and you should rotate your API Key files periodically, just in case your keyfile has become compromised.

Getting an API Key on IBM Cloud is really easy.

  • Log into the IBM Cloud, and navigate to your account settings in the upper right hand corner of the IBM Cloud in your web browser. Select Manage > Security > Platform API Keys.
  • Click on the blue Create button.
  • In the resulting dialog, select a name for your API Key (something that will tell you which IBM Cloud account the key is associated with), give a short description, and hit the blue Create button.
  • You should now see a page indicating that your API Key has been successfully created. If not, then start over again from the beginning. If you have successfully created an API Key, download it to your machine, and store it somewhere secure.

Note: A quick note on API Keys. For security reasons, I suggest that you periodically destroy API Keys and re-create them (commonly called rotating your API keys or access tokens). Then if someone had access to your data by having one of your API keys, they will lose this access.

Other Tasks

Do you have other administrative tasks that you would like to see the tool handle?  Find a bug?  Want to help improve the tool by building a nice interface for it?  Just contact me through the GitHub repository, join the project, and add issues for problems, bugs, and enhancement requests.

A Final Thought

This script is a quick hacked together Python script – nothing more and nothing less.  The code isn’t pretty, and there are better ways to do some of the things that I have done here – but I was focused on getting something working quickly, and not on efficiency or Python coding best practices.  I would not expect anyone to base their entire IBM Cloud administration on this tool – but it’s handy to use if you need something quick, and cannot remember those IBM Cloud command line commands.

Deploying Production Cloud Applications – A Readiness Checklist

I just had a conversation today with my VP (Rob Sauerwalt – check him out on Twitter – time to do some shameless kissing up to my management team) about a recent internal communication that we both saw.  It was someone looking for a “readiness checklist” for the deployment of an application on the IBM Cloud.  Rob and I both agreed that this seems pretty simple, and we came up with a quick checklist of things to consider.

Now this list is not specific to the IBM Cloud, it’s pretty generic.  It’s just a quick checklist of things that you will want to make sure that you have considered, BEFORE you deploy that cloud based application into a production environment.  I am an Agile believer, so I would suggest that you address these checklist items in the SPIRIT of what they are trying to do, and that you should do what makes sense.  This means that each one of these areas does not need to represent some 59 page piece of documentation.  What you want to do is provide enough information so the poor guy who takes your job after you get promoted, is able to be effective and understand and maintain the application or system.

If you have suggestions about other things that should be on this list, please drop me a line and let me know.  I would love to add them to the list, and make this generic deployment readiness checklist even better.

Production Readiness Checklist

The Basics

⊗ Name and General Description of the Application – this includes the purpose of the application and the number of users that are anticipated to use the application.  Also have an idea of the types of users.  Is it for the general public?  Only for certain roles within our organization?  Is it only for your customers?  Do this in two to three paragraphs – anything more is adding complexity.

⊗ Description of Needed Software/Hardware/Cloud Resources – a list of the needed software packages, and the clou resources needed to run the application.  Do you use third party utilities or libraries?  Do you run on Cloud Foundry buildpacks?  Virtual machines?  Do you use Cloud services for database resources?  Often a high level architectural diagram is useful to help other people understand the system at a high level.  This should be done AS you build – so you can simplify things.  Are your developers using different libraries to accomplish the same thing?  Get them to standardize.  Reduce your dependencies, reduce your complexity, and you improve your software quality.

DevOps Considerations

⊗ Operating Systems and Patching Requirements – do you have specific OS requirements?  Do you require a particular framework to run properly (like .NET, Eclipse, or a particular Cloud Foundry buildpack)?  What OS versions have you tested and validated this application with – and do all of your components need to be on the same OS version?  This becomes important when fixes get deployed to containers, virtual machines get upgraded, and maintenance activities are done.

⊗ Installation and Configuration Guidelines – you should be deploying your application in some automated manner.  So your deployment and promotion scripts should be the only guide that you need…… except when they aren’t.  Take the time and DOCUMENT those scripts – explain WHAT you are doing and WHY, so your application can easily be reconfigured or deployed in different ways in the future.

⊗ Back-up, Data Retention and Data Archiving Policies – let your operations people know what data needs to be archived and retained.  How often do systems need to be backed up?  How will services be restored in the event of a crash?  Explain WHERE and HOW data needs to be retained.  Explain what your DEVELOPMENT teams need to review on a periodic basis.  This can be the biggest headache for development teams, because these are often scenarios that they have not considered.  Backup plans are not sufficient, they need to be executed at least once before you go into production – so you are sure that they are valid and that they work.

⊗ Monitoring and Systems Management – This includes runbooks – what do we need to do while the application is running?  Do we need to take the logs off of the system every day and archive them?  Or do we just let logs and error reports build up until the system crashes?  Should I monitor memory and heap usage on a daily basis?  Should I be monitoring CPU load?  Who do I notify if I see a problem, and what is a “problem”?  (CPU at 50%? CPU running at 20% with spikes to 100%?)  How will this application normally be supported?  You may not have complete information and definition of “problems” when you begin, bu define what you can and acknowledge that things will change as time goes on.

⊗ Incident Management – This details how you react to application incidents.  These could be bugs, outages, or both.  In the case of an outage, who needs to be called, and what actions should they take to collect needed data, and to get the application back up and running.  What logs are needed, what kind of data will aid in debugging issues?  Who is responsible for application uptime TODAY (get things back on track and running), and who is responsible for application uptime TOMORROW (who needs to find root cause, fix bugs, make design changes if needed, etc.).

⊗ Service Level Documentation -This is the “contract” between you and your customers.  How often will your application be down for maintenance?  If your application is down, how long before it comes back up?  Are there any billing or legal ramifications from a loss of service?  Do your customers get refunds – or cash back – when your Cloud application is unavailable?

⊗ Extra Credit – DevOps pipeline – you need to have an automated pipeline for the deployment of code changes into well defined development, test, and production environments.  You need to have a solid set of policies and procedures for the initiation and automation of these deployments.  Who has authority to deliver to test environments?  Production environments?

Software Architecture Considerations

⊗ Key Support & Maintenance Items – the team that built this thing knows where the weak spots are – share that knowledge!  Where does the team know that “tech debt” exists – and how is that impacting your application?  This information will help the teams maintaining and upgrading your application.  They will be able to do this with knowledge about how the application works, and why certain architectural choices were made.

⊗ Security Plan – Everyone is worried about the security of their applications and data on the cloud.  You need to be sensitve to this when deploying cloud based applications.  Your stakeholders and users will want to know that you have considered security, and that you are protecting their data from being exposed, stolen, or used without their knowledge/consent.

⊗ Application Design – This should include some high level description of your use case, a simple flowchart and dependencies.  Give enough detail so someone can easily get started in maintaining your application code, but not so much detail that you waste time and ultimately end up with documentation that does not match the code.

Is That Everything?

That’s not everything, but it is a good minimal list of things that you should have considered and/or documented.  Most applications need some sort of a support plan – who handles incoming problem tickets from customers?  Do you have a support process for your end users?  In your own environments and business context, you may have other things that need to be added to this list.  Do you need to check for compliance with some standard or regulation?  What are your policies for using Open Source software?

So this list is not meant to be exhaustive – but it is designed to make you think, and to help you ensure higher quality when deploying your Cloud applications.

Happy Holidays for 2017

With the end of the year quickly approaching, it is a great time to look back on the past year, and to look forward in anticipation for what is coming in 2018.

2017 was an interesting year.  I saw an explosion in the development of chatbots of various different types.  Some were very simple, others used both Watson Conversation and the Watson Discovery service to provide a deeper user experience – with an ability to answer both short tail and long tail questions.  I saw a huge uptick in interest in basic Cloud approaches, and a lot of interest in containers and Kubernetes.  I expect that both of these trends will continue into 2018.

In 2018 I expect to see the IBM Cloud mature and expand in it’s ability to quickly provide development, test and production computing environments for our customers.  I also expect that more people will become interested in hybrid cloud approaches, and will want to understand some best practices for managing these complex environments.  I am also excited about some of the excellent cognitive projects that I have seen which could soon be in production for our customers.  I also expect that some of our more advanced customers will be looking at how cognitive technologies can be incorporated into their current DevOps processes, and how these processes can be expanded into the cloud.

I hope that your 2017 was a good one, and I hope that you have a happy and safe holiday season.

Hurray for IBM Cloud!! Um, where did my stuff go?

Just went through an issue with a customer, and it’s a somewhat common issue so I figured that I would do a quick blog post on it.

Recently IBM has decided to rebrand our cloud from what we commonly refer to as Bluemix, and we are now referring to as the IBM Cloud.  You may have noticed the changes to the UI, and some new capability (like resource groups!).

Some of these changes have caused some of our customers to “lose” access to some of their data on Bluemix the IBM Cloud (see, even we struggle with the changes in names).  These customers claim that they can not see some of the organizations, spaces and services that they used to have.  DON’T PANIC!.  Your work has not been lost.  What has happened is that as IBM has collapsed things to a single IBM Cloud user (when maybe you used to have a SoftLayer user, and a Bluemix user), you now have access to two different accounts from your IBM Cloud web interface.

Fixing the Issue

So just go and look at your profile in the IBM Cloud UI.  It is the little person icon in the upper right hand corner of your browser.

Now click on the little symbol under Account, and you will notice that you now have access to two different accounts.  Some of your artifacts will be in one account, and others will be in the second account.  You can switch context here in the UI so you can see what is in each account.  Presto!!!  Mystery solved, and now you can go back to being insanely productive working out on the IBM Cloud.

Getting Data from your IBM Cloud GitHub Project

Note: This post is also published on developerWorks, as Getting Data from your IBM Cloud GitHub Project.  Please refer to that article to catch any updates.

I blog when I have to answer questions that I want to more widely share the answers to.  It’s also a good way to remember things before a turkey induced amnesia sets in (it’s a week before U.S. Thanksgiving).

Recently I have seen some questions on being able to get access to the data in an IBM Cloud GitHub project.  I had just completed doing a quick internal activity for pulling information out of a GitHub Enterprise repository, so I figured that this would be simple.  It was…. and it wasn’t.  The IBM Cloud GitHub instance isn’t a GitHub Enterprise deployment, it is a GitLab deployment.  The GitLab API is a little different from the GitHub Enterprise API.  I managed to find a suitable Python package for using the GitLab API, and if you look at the resulting code, it is pretty simple.

So I have created a simple GitHub project (called IBMCloud_GitLab_CSV) that does a quick CSV export of issues from an IBM Cloud GitHub project.  It’s a simple example, written in Python, that you should be able to use and tailor, to fit your specific needs.  I use small Python programs like this to pull the open issues from a variety of projects, and then I can share the resulting CSV files with project managers and PowerPoint producers who want to report on these sorts of things.

If you need this type of capability, make sure to read the README file for this project, which instructs you on how to modify the code to point at YOUR IBM Cloud GitHub project, and tells you how to get an access token for yourself (which the program needs, in order to be able to log into your GitHub project).

If you want to improve on this example, or even create some type of generic tool for doing this type of thing, please join the IBMCloud_GitLab_CSV GitHub project and begin contributing to it.

Watson as a Service

As I have said on earlier blog posts, if I have to answer a question more than once, then it’s probably worthy of a blog post.  This week I had one of those situations, and thought that it would be good to share because it highlights a few points at very different levels.

Last week I was answering a survey posted by a Watson Speech-to-Text user, who was complaining about how confusing everything was.  I found this a bit surprising, as Speech-to-Text is one of the more simple services for developers to work with.  The user claimed that their EasyVSL app was telling them that “Watson wasn’t working”.  So I quickly checked the Bluemix status board, and found that nothing indicated a loss of service availability.  So I asked some more questions and probed a little deeper.

Watson as an Add-On

I found out that the EasyVSL app has a feature which the user can turn on, which will use the Watson Speech-to-Text service.  The user just need to add the service credentials for a valid Watson Speech-to-Text service, and the EasyVSL app will use that Watson service instance to do their speech-to-text processing.  Once I saw this, I walked through creating an instance of the Watson Speech-to-Text service for the customer, and showed him how to get his service credentials, which he then supplied to the EasyVSL app.  Once this was done, Watson was no longer “broken”.

Up until the past few weeks, I had never seen a product use Watson services in this way – as an add-on to an existing capability, where the CUSTOMER needs to provide the Watson service.  In this case, EasyVSL doesn’t worry about paying for Watson services.  If their customers see value in them then they use them and pay IBM directly for the services that they use.  It is a business/operating model that I am beginning to see now.

Advantages and Disadvantages

This type of model has some positives and negatives associated with it, and I think that it depends on your perspective.  As an application provider, it is a positive to be able to let your customers pay for the additional functionality that they want.  If they don’t need advanced cognitive capabilities, then why should they pay for them?  It also allows you to avoid thinking about how your are going to pass charges along to your customers.  If you need to monitor customer usage, track how many times they are using the various Watson API’s, and then figure out some way to pass along the costs associated with them, you will end up spending a fair amount of time and effort developing that monitoring and billing infrastructure (not even considering the adjustments that you will need to make to make your business model work).

From a customer perspective, many of the positives become negatives.  While I like to have a choice as a customer, I do not like having to deal with two vendors billing me for a single service.  I am also not thrilled with the fact that I need to maintain an instance (or multiple instances) of the Watson services.  I am paying money to a vendor so THEY can worry about that stuff.  The other downside is that as a customer, it is not always apparent which vendor I need to call when I have a problem.  That was the issue that I saw this week – the customer that I had helped had reached out for support from both EasyVSL and IBM – and had not gotten very far with either of them.

Future of Watson as an Add-On

I’m not sure if this pattern will become popular, although my gut tells me that it won’t.  Most customers don’t like paying multiple vendors for what they perceive as a single service.  However, I do note that cell phones are now largely unsubsidized in the US, with customers buying their own phones, and then paying monthly for services that those phones use.  In the past, the phones were “free”, and the cost of the phones was “bundled” into the monthly cell phone rate.  So there is precedence for this type of model working.

If you are an app provider, it is critical that you think carefully about your approach to how you use the Watson cognitive services, not only from a technical perspective, but also from a business perspective.  The business model that you choose will have an impact on your development, operations, and your customers.