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IBM Smarter Computing Executive Summit

Recently, I was invited to attend an IBM executive summit focused on Smarter Computing held at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. IBM Systems and Technology Group (STG) executives spoke about their customers’ success in applying IBM Smarter Computing solutions. Analysts, experts and clients mingled in discussions as IBM provided:

1. Announcements on the new System z, Power Systems,PureSystems and Storage solutions
2. Deep dives on new IBM products and innovations
3. Access to and interaction with business and IT leaders experienced with the results of Smarter Computing.

Some 90 IBM executives, technology and product experts were available to discuss how leading companies leverage Smarter Computing to transform their IT infrastructures and achieve superior business outcomes. They demonstrated the latest systems and answered customer questions about ways to solve business problems.

The event provided an opportunity to mingle with over 170 customers in a relaxed environment. Unlike the hectic pace of IBM’s annual big events (PULSE, IMPACT, etc.) the structure encouraged informal interactions which proved enjoyable and informative. The legendary efforts by IBM sales to control contact with their customers were notably absent. I enjoyed multiple conversations with customers, alone and with their sales reps; the result was two days of candid and enlightening discussions.

The information flow wasn’t just one way. The informal discussions allowed data and information exchange among all attendees. IBM provided context with their view of their customers’ IT challenges. They discussed how existing and new products were designed to address those challenges. Then, IBM wisely had customers describe their own experiences in Smarter Computing as they worked with IBM to solve those problems.

The Goal

IBM’s goal was to drive home two messages:

1. IBM customers are quite successfully dealing with the mega-trends driving a new era of IT. The trends being the:

- Impact of the Cloud
- Realization of significant business advantage from analytics
- Increasing criticality of security
- Emergence of social media and mobility as major business issues
- Necessity of consolidation and integration of the IT infrastructure.

2. IBM provides the most cost effective and efficient computing systems and products to address and resolve the challenges of the new era of IT.

IBM used the combination of persuasive presentations, customer stories and product demonstrations to support their message. The customer stories are well documented in case studies on the IBM website. One example: as CITI’s Managing Director and Global Head of Enterprise Systems Operations and an early adopter of the zEC12 mainframe, Martin Kennedy is well positioned to speak to the benefits they experienced. He specifically mentioned the security of the integrated encryption and centralized key management available with z/OS. He cited significant cost reduction resulting from massively quick analytics using the accelerator engine applicable to some 90% of their efforts.

Other customers such as Douglas Mackie, Director of Technical Engineering for Ace Hardware spoke about how a Smarter Storage solution from IBM reduced the production workflow cycle. With an increased ability to expand the available storage, they provided sub-second response times for their users. They delivered reliable, immediate, simultaneous data access, 24/7 to a 10 Terabyte SAP database.

Intelligent, Integrated, Highly Competitive Products on Display

Of course, the stars of the show were the products – on display were the latest zEnterprise (zEC12), zBX, Power 7+, PureSystems and Storage platforms. System experts demoed and discussed the systems in detail.

Given recent inquiries, I used this opportunity to more closely examine the market positioning and differences among the platforms. One area of particular recent interest was to understand the relative positioning of the zEnterprise with zBX as compared to PureSystems. The questions of potential conflict, cannibalization of sales and overlapping segments are hot topics.

Here’s what I came away with:

zEC12 – we’ve commented on this before. In short, IBM continues expanding, improving and documenting mainframe values. Traditionally enhancing ’speeds and feeds’ aimed at improving the performance of I/O bound processes. With this new version, IBM focused its attention on optimizing the performance of CPU-bound workloads. This targets a different, potentially significant portion of the market. We mean the large number of users who have exhausted their current platforms, but have delayed capital purchases because of the dismal economic climate. The trends mentioned earlier place heavier loads and demand more from the infrastructure than ever. Infrastructure upgrades and changes can only be delayed so long before performance degrades to disrupt operations and service delivery. The investment for the upgrade has to be made. The latest performance statistics of the EC12 are impressive.

And, let’s not forget the faster data access with Flash Express solid-state memory, easier and faster problem analysis with zAware. This mainframe no longer requires a ‘glass-house’ with a raised floor. All this, plus beefed up performance and support for LINUX, Java and the integrated zBX blade environment, makes the zEC12 a highly attractive package. More on zBX in a moment.

PureSystems – all three members of the PureSystems family (PureApplication, PureFlex and Flex System) have been improved since last spring. These are positioned as fully integrated, fully converged and intelligent systems optimized for a specific workload in a distributed environment. The newest member, PureData is optimized for data-oriented workloads (i.e. analytics, operational analytics, etc.). Any suspicion that these are intended to directly challenge and refute claims of superiority by other specialty platforms, (Oracle’s Exadata, VCE [VMware, Cisco, EMC], SAP HANNA, etc.) is spot-on! Other enhancements include expanded storage choice, more scalable network switch options, enhanced management and a new expansion node. IBM’s billion-dollar+ investment is delivering.

zBX and PureSystems – we’ve been involved in discussions over how PureSystems relate to the zEnterprise with zBX. Has IBM set itself up to cannibalize itself? Will PureSystems intelligence replace zBX? Will PureSystems technology appear in the mainframe?

Here’s my take:

The zEnterprise preserves the traditional, centrally managed mainframe environment. The zBX was designed for those who want to integrate blades into a mainframe management and operational environment. It allows you a clean, tight integration of blades (Power and x86) with the mainframe. IBM developers today operate in an environment which encourages that they share, transfer and leverage ideas and innovation. That cross-fertilization goes on, as the mainframe and PureSystems share some technology and intelligence today and there should be little doubt that they will share more in the future.

PureSystems are designed as converged infrastructure with tightly integrated server, storage and network environments that are or can be optimized for specific application and/or workload patterns. The family consists of FLEX System, PureFlex, PureApplication and now, PureData systems.

FLEX System and PureFlex – are the basic PureSystems not tied to specific workloads or applications. FLEX Systems constitute the basic chassis with system-storage-network as a package assembled, integrated, tested and delivered by IBM. It is meant for those who want to ‘roll their own’ i.e. build their own environment on an intelligent platform. It can be extended with a system manager node7, network switches, storage expansion options, etc.

PureFlex is the IBM factory-integrated compute + storage + networking + operations management that includes intelligent data placement, integrated management across all resources for workload optimization, etc. It is a FLEX System, but with more built-in features and functionality, such as a customized UI, monitoring via smart phone apps, Out-of-box automated configuration patterns, etc.

FLEX Systems and PureFlex are the candidates for integration with zBX. FLEX Systems and PureFlex can function as extensions to the zBX or, for example, as customized specialty engines. Most likely, they would be integrated into the mainframe management model.

In Summary

The discussion above only touches on the breadth of topics discussed. I’ve skipped IBM’s new storage devices, the enhancements to Power 7+ and the Power 7+-based easy entry to a cloud environment. All are worthy of their own discussion.

Special acknowledgement has to be given to the presentation by IBM Fellow and VP of Innovation, Dr. Bernie Meyerson on the challenges of sustaining innovation as the laws of physics present a barrier to innovation through scaling down manufacturing. He managed to fascinate, enlighten and educate while being extremely entertaining. He left little doubt that IBM understands the challenge of continuing innovation, and is committed to resolving them.

The IBM team put together an event in a delightful environment (even without taking on the challenge of Pinehurst’s legendary golf courses). The customers that I had the pleasure to speak with found the messages presented by IBM to be both compelling and persuasive. I haven’t heard a more coherent, forward-looking and well-integrated story from any of IBM’s rivals.

*Richard Ptak is an expert analyst at Ptak, Noel and Associates