On August 12, 1981, 28 long years ago, IBM introduced its personal computer, the IBM PC. Hidden inside was an operating system called MS-DOS which the computing giant had licensed from a pipsqueak company named Microsoft. IBM didn’t realize it at the time, but the deal, which allowed Microsoft to maintain its ownership of the operating system and to license it to other companies, turned out to be the seminal event in defining the commercial landscape for the computing business throughout the ensuing PC era. IBM, through the deal, anointed Microsoft as the dominant company of that era.
Today, as a new era in computing dawns, IBM announced another deal, this time with Amazon Web Services, a pipsqueak in the IT business but an early leader in cloud computing. Under the deal, corporations and software developers will be able to run IBM’s commercial software in Amazon’s cloud. As the Register’s Timothy Prickett Morgan reports, “IBM announced that it would be deploying a big piece of its database and middleware software stack on Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service. The software that IBM is moving out to EC2 includes the company’s DB2 and Informix Dynamic Server relational databases, its WebSphere Portal and sMash mashup tools, and its Lotus Web Content Management program … The interesting twist on the Amazon-IBM deal is that Big Blue is going to let companies that have already bought software licenses run that software out on the EC2 cloud, once the offering is generally available.”
Prickett Morgan also notes, “If compute clouds want to succeed as businesses instead of toys, they have to run the same commercial software that IT departments deploy internally on their own servers. Which is why [the] deal struck between IBM and Amazon’s Web Services subsidiary is important, perhaps more so for Amazon than for Big Blue.”
It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, and it probably isn’t. But you never know. The licensing of MS-DOS seemed like small potatoes when it happened. Could the accidental kingmaker have struck again?
UPDATE: Dana Gardner speculates on the upshot.