IBM invited me to take part in Enterprise2013, an "Executive Summit," to learn about how their systems, software, and services can help organizations, in IBM's words:
...improve financial performance, enhance organizational effectiveness and achieve industry leadership through IT infrastructure investments to reshape their industries, improve customer service, make better decisions through improved use of data, and enhance collaboration across their value chains.
In short, IBM is offering a showcase for its Mainframe and Midrange systems offerings.
Musings before the conference begins
As I'm reading though the agenda and planning which sessions to attend, I began thinking about how many system suppliers have one system solution and present it as the best answer to any question.
In their view, their X86-based systems are exceptional at transaction processing, high performance computing, Web-based applications, collaborative computing and just about any application you'd care to name.
While IBM offers a well received family of X86-based systems, it would point out that maybe the industry is looking through the wrong end of the telescope when starting with a microprocessor architecture in its decision-making process. IBM is one of the few suppliers that offers multiple families of systems, each based upon a different architecture, and points out that it would be better to consider what you're trying to accomplish before picking out an architecture.
IBM would suggest that an enterprise-wide IT architecture would be better based upon a selection of industry and international standards, application frameworks, applications, data management tools, management tools, security tools, etc. that are available to support a number of system architectures rather than starting with a type of hardware and rolling that out everywhere, always and for all workloads.
Considering Industry Standard Systems
In the industry standard systems world, operating systems, application frameworks and applications are designed to use a general purpose, high volume X86 platform. The suppliers often choose to use the lowest common denominator when selecting processor options, memory capabilities, storage interfaces and the like to make sure that their products will execute reasonably well on a broad selection of products from many vendors. They try to innovate within standards promulgated by a number of other suppliers.
While this approach means that an organization can select from a number of suppliers, it may also mean that the solution may use more power and require more cooling, more processors, more storage and be less cost-effective than selecting a different platform.
Considering single vendor solutions
IBM and the others offering systems and solutions based upon several different microprocessor architectures have an opportunity to tune their solutions based upon the capabilities of their own processor, memory architecture, storage architecture, operating systems, virtualization technology, the storage and the networking tools. As long as each of the family of systems closely follow international and industry standards for operating system APIs, development tools, application frameworks, and standards for data management, networking, and security the entire configuration can be tuned and optimized for a specific use case.
This could mean making better use of the available processing, memory, storage and networking power provided by a system. It can also mean addressing the enterprise's IT challenges with a simpler, more integrated, higher performance and yet lower cost solution.
Notes from the conference
I will be adding comments to this post from time to time while I'm at the conference. Please come back to read them.
Why do conferences always start with deafening music? IBM started the conference general session with a live band playing with the sound set to 11. I had to leave the room. It was just too painful to stay in my chair.
Tom Rosimilia, SVP Systems and Technology Group
Tom spoke about out how technology and Big Data touches everyone's lives. He discussed how mobility, Big Data, and social media are trends that are hitting all at once. All of them are based on our technological infrastructure. Companies are looking at technology as a way to be more efficient, agile and, they hope, more profitable.
Tom flogged the idea of "Smarter Computing" and gave several examples of IBM's role. He said that IT needs to transform to make better use of their systems and data and reduce silos that get in the way. Open standards are required. Getting people to think differently and collaborate is key.
Steve Mills, SVP, reviewed a number of topics including how virtualization (he means the use of virtual machine software I think) makes it possible to create a sustainable data center that balances performance, power consumption, agility and other factors. It was an interesting session.
Pablo Carvao, VP Noth American Systems and Technology Group
Carvela focused on how infrastructure matters to business outcomes. The theme of "transforming IT" was mentioned again and again. Since he was introducing the next series of sessions, he mentioned a number of buzzwords in passing.
Jeanette Horran, IBM CIO
Horran discussed how IBM uses Big Data, Advanced Analytics, Cloud, Social and Mobile in its own business. It currently has 86,000 communities, 428,000 blogs and over 100,000 personal devices connecting to the IBM network. This allows the staff and contractors to work together even though 40% of them never come into an IBM office.
Patrick Toole, General Manager System z
Toole started with a story about how the mainframe was a foundation piece for many major innovations and events including the moon landings, oceanographic research and the like. He pointed out that most people don't think about the impact of IBM's 50 year history. Things happen so fast and securely that we use these systems without thinking about it.
Toole then turned to how today's trends only reenforce the need for these systems going forward. He talked about the legacy of the new X86 systems and how other approaches could be better in terms of costs, complexity, power consumption and the like. The more workloads people put on the mainframe, he pointed out, the better the economics look.
Conversations at lunch
I spoke with a couple of CIOs over lunch.
One of them discussed how his company had gathered together Linux systems, largely supporting Web workloads, and moved them to the company's mainframe. He believes that his company has gotten substantial savings in operational expenses and was was able to retire a number of older systems. It wasn't necessary to add any additional administrative or operational staff as part of this transformation.
The other discussed how workloads developed for IBM System/34s were still in use today even though they had been moved first to an AS/400 and later onto a current system i. We discussed how vital processing virtualization and storage virtualization can be in extending the life of mature, but still very valuable, code could be.
Although they've not yet agreed to appear in a customer profile, I have hopes for presenting a more detailed story about their experiences in the future.