IBM betting cloud race will go to the Swift-est | #IBMInterConnect

IBM Swift InterConnect 2016

Could Apple’s greatest contribution to the IT industry turn out to be a programming language? Judging by the buzz at week’s IBM InterConnect conference, that just might be so.

The Swift language that Apple created and then open-sourced just a couple of months ago is taking the development world by storm. It’s already the most popular language project on Github, and IBM has uses it exclusively to develop the mobile apps it’s released under its partnership with Apple. In the opening general session of InterConnect, IBM devoted the only demonstration time on the main stage to an overview of Swift.

“This Swift thing,” said Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM Systems, “is huge.”

What’s all the fuss about? Swift brings together the ease-of-use of interpreted languages with the power of compiled languages. It does away with many of the arcane hieroglyphics that characterize languages like C and C++ and which can stop a program dead if a single bracket is out of place.

That means Swift programs are easier to create and understand than other languages, easy enough that a 12-year-old is writing a how-to book about it (see theCUBE interview below). Because Swift is interpreted, programmers can immediately see the results of their work. In fact, Swift comes with a set of puzzles and games called Playgrounds that coders can use to experiment with Swift’s interactive programming approach without creating a project.

The rap on interpreted languages has historically been that they’re slow, and that’s where Swift has caught the attention of developers. “Tests show that Swift is as fast as C++, and it blows away scripting languages” for performance, said Brian Croll, Apple’s vice president of product marketing, during the InterConnect demo. Apple’s goal in open-sourcing it: “We want to replace C and C++.”

That’s an ambitious goal, but not an impossible one, given Swift’s momentum. Apple gave the language a huge boost shortly before open-sourcing it by releasing a version for Linux. Availability on Linux means Swift can be used to write server-side programs that work smoothly with Swift-based clients. It’s also a great use case for hybrid cloud, which is what caught IBM’s attention.

IBM got the biggest applause during Monday’s general session when it announced a preview of a Swift runtime and a Swift package catalog targeted at enterprise developers. IBM said it’s the first cloud provider to enable the development of applications in native Swift and it boasted that more than 100,000 developers have used the Swift Sandbox is released in December, with more than a half million code runs executed there so far.

“If you look like things like node.js and Swift, you can come into the cloud from any environment,” said Robert LeBlanc, senior vice president of IBM cloud.

IBM has pledged to make the language available on all of its Linux platforms, including mainframes. Through its partnership with Apple, the company has already written more than 100 commercial applications in Swift. It’s making the Swift libraries and Sandbox available as part of its Bluemix platform as a service, and, significantly, limited their deployment to the IBM cloud.

IBM’s hybrid cloud strategy has relied heavily on developers. The company claims to be onboarding 20,000 new Bluemix users each week and it has been courting developers through local Bluemix “garages” in major cities for two years. Last year IBM announced a major commitment to the Spark analytical engine, including plans to train 5,000 of its people how to use it.

At a time when software really is becoming king, the company that has the hearts and minds of developers should have an edge. IBM clearly expects Swift to be one of the winners.

Watch theCUBE’s interview with 12-year-old programming whiz Tanmay Bakshi below (18:52)

Image courtesy of IBM