IBM does a nice show in that it has a good blend of technology and customer advocacy. I’m at IBM’s Enterprise 2014 this week, and it is a fascinating show, not only in content but in the quality of the event.
It started for me with a dinner last night, where I got thoroughly confused about whether Scotland was a state or a country and learned a ton about scary things going on in Eastern Europe.
But the event is really all about showcasing IBM’s new direction and the power of advocacy. Historically, this advocacy is the most powerful part because it validates the message IBM is attempting to deliver. Often, presentations are long on technology but short on the “why should I care” part. Customer advocacy is what can make a huge difference, and Tom Rosamilia, the IBM senior VP hosting the event, showed how this is done.
This is a coming out party for IBM’s huge push on Power after spinning out its x86 business to Lenovo. It is showcasing both the Power servers and the large-scale System Z. The areas they currently lead in include security on System Z and market leadership in the emerging market of software-defined storage, but perhaps the most interesting platform for me remains Watson, the big AI engine. Dr. David McQueeney, VP of computing as a service at IBM, shared stories of customers who are now working with Watson and have changed their whole approach. In areas like medicine, these are systems that could save our lives.
I’m going to the Watson event in New York later in the week, which will have more detail on this. Watson represents IBM’s most market-leading endeavor. Think of it like Siri or, more accurately, Cortana (she is smarter), but with massively more intelligence and power. I’m always left wondering just how long it will be before Watson does its own presentation.
Disruptive Innovation in the New Era of Computing
One of the more interesting parts of the presentation was a segment on disruptive technologies out of IBM Labs. Some interesting thoughts were broken into functional areas.
Processor leadership is at the core of IBM’s strategy and Power is the technology it is running with. IBM has one of the largest processor R&D efforts in the market and believes it can provide unique differentiation by creating its own processor rather than using one, be it ARM or x86, from someone else. At the heart of this is the fact that its processor isn’t first focused on phones or PCs nor is it connected to devices in this class. It is custom built based on the intended needs of large-scale systems, including Watson, which IBM believes will give it an advantage in the targeted market.
Next, data-centric systems expand beyond the processor; you design and build the system around the data and applications, not the applications and data around the system. The system is a tool and a tool is better designed against the task that needs to be done. That seems obvious, but the implication is that everyone but IBM is having to increasingly redesign the task to fit the tool, which is far more inefficient.
Cognitive computing is expected to massively advance with technologies that include both neural computing (modeling the human brain) and quantum computing (a massive increase in quantitative computing). IBM showcased an implementation where a system could actually look at X-rays and make a diagnosis based on what is seen with regard to cancer. The next big area is to get the system to actually reason, to analyze both sides of an argument and in an unbiased fashion use data to reason out which path is the most factual. This could do some rather ugly things to the political process that could actually create a better world.
IBM had a large series of customer examples, including studios, medical organizations, and even IKEA, but given recent news, it was the one from Visa that caught my eye.
Visa provided a video on its need to catch fraud before it can spread and bring the payment service to its knees. This has been a massive problem in the industry with major store chains, and massive banks, nearly constantly in the news reporting massive breaches. Visa moves between all of these businesses and a breach at Visa could do massive damage to the entire commerce ecosystem.
Visa’s security prevention system is based on IBM technology, which the presentation said was uniquely capable of handling the kind of massive exposure that Visa has.
Honey, I Shrunk the Data Center
This was a fascinating hardware announcement: 40 terabytes of flash memory tied to a Power processor, which fits into shelves and is the equivalent in performance of 24 servers. Now, like all claims, this one would need to be validated, but if accurate, that would result in a massive reduction in the data center.
Wrapping Up: The Power in IBM
Overall, IBM came to play at this enterprise event. It has an overflow audience at the event and folks were lined up along the sides watching the presentations. Rosamilia and his team kicked a little butt and took names. But what really strikes me about IBM’s events is that they blend customer testimonials throughout, which emphasizes each point with a reasonable independent proof point. Not only is this more powerful, it is one hell of a lot more interesting.
In the end, while IBM focused on the Power architecture, the real power is in its loyal customers. That loyalty was showcased over and over again on stage. To me, that will always be the real power in IBM.