Power Systems: The Secret To SMB Innovation?
March 18, 2013 Alex Woodie
Technological innovation is viewed today as a necessary ingredient for business success in many industries. Fail to keep up with pace of change, and your business will begin to stagnate and eventually be overtaken by more innovative competitors. In an online roundtable discussion last week that was, in and of itself, a symbol of innovation, IBM helped to share the innovation stories of two Power Systems shops that fall into the small and midsize business (SMB) category.
Of course, the Power Systems server running the IBM i operating system isn’t the source for all technological innovation in the world. Some credit, after all, must go to Apple iOS for practically bootstrapping an entire, multi-billion-dollar industry out of thin air.
All kidding aside, there is a common thread that runs through IBM i shops, a shared experience that is unique in the business IT world. While the wider IT industry often views the platform through green-tinted legacy goggles, those who work with the machine on a daily basis come to understand the innovation that is hidden within the proprietary frame.
Take Justin Porter’s experience, for example. Porter is the only person in a one-person IT shop at Westside Produce, which provides marketing and logistics to melon growers in California and Arizona.
“I was pretty skeptical when I first entered the business,” Porter said during last week’s powercast roundtable hosted on Spreecast. “One of the things that made a believer of me is the fact that it just runs. It’s just incredibly reliable. . . . Now I have become a proponent of keeping the system in our business.”
That reliability has given Porter the time to innovate in the form of developing custom RPG applications for Westside, including analytic programs that help the company make more accurate predictions about the crop and what is going on in the fields. “By continuing to evolve our existing capabilities, rather than spend time fixing problems, we’ve been able to innovate and make better, more efficient processes.”
Porter says his one-man shop (that is, Porter himself) wouldn’t have the freedom to develop new stuff and innovate with analytics if Westside ran the bulk of its core applications on industry-standard X86 servers as opposed to the IBM i server. Westside still has its share of X86 servers, and Porter doesn’t bother hiding his disdain for them.
“The reason I’m able to do it and Westside Produce is able to do it, is I don’t have to spend as much time dealing with and working with the Power system to keep it running,” he says. “The Power system runs effectively enough and on its own enough that I can deal with the screaming baby that is the X86 servers when they need it, and let the Power system just kind of do its own thing.”
Another proponent of Power Systems innovation is Nigel Fortlage, a Power Systems champion whose day job is vice president of IT and the social business leader at GHY International.
GHY relies on applications residing in IBM i, Linux, and AIX partitions of its Power Systems hardware–and X86 servers connected to a Power Systems-managed SAN–to keep the international trade brokerage humming along. In fact, the company has won awards for its efficiency, something that Fortlage partly credits to its reliance on IBM gear.
But the present wasn’t always so bright for GHY. Before 2002, the year the company embarked upon a server consolidation program, the company’s IT department utilized a wide array of disparate X86 servers to handle various business functions for its multiple divisions.
“We spent 95 percent of our time as a team of three in the data center keeping all of the X86 boxes happy and talking to what was then a non-Power system, an AS/400,” Fortlage says. “The AS/400 didn’t need to be babysat. Once we put everything under the hood of an IBM server. . . we spent 5 percent of our time doing the exact same task. That was fundamental change that allowed us to do. . .everything else we did since then.”
Fortlage has been in his position at GHY long enough not to have to sweat the small stuff anymore. With Power Systems running core business applications, the level of hand-holding required isn’t great. Instead, Fortlage has the luxury of time to play with new technologies and figure out how to use them to improve GHY’s business.
“GHY is following IBM’s lead, and becoming social,” Fortlage says. “That’s part of my title, primarily from a business development perspective. We’ve really seen the benefit of becoming social, and really want to build a culture of being social.”
To that end, Fortlage has helped GHY adopt the latest social media technologies from IBM. That list includes previously available Notes and Domino tools like the Sametime instant messaging (IM) client, as well as newer social media tools in the Notes and Domino suite, such as Traveler and Connections.
As part of the IBM i TR6 announcement last month, IBM made a statement of direction that it planned to add native IBM i support to Traveler and IBM Connections. “Bringing IBM Connections into an IBM i environment is the next hot button for us,” Fortlage says. “I hope to be able to talk about that by the end of year.”
Fortlage looks back at that server consolidation program, and the elimination of “islands of computing” in GHY’s data center, as the key to today’s innovation. “The more islands you get rid of, the more time you actually gain back,” he said. “As a testament to that. . . I now spend 50 percent of my time handling the strategic management aspect of IT, and the other 50 percent in business development. I could never have done that if we hadn’t enjoyed the benefits that came with eliminating and addressing those islands of computing.”
By the way, the IBM Spreecast was pretty slick. While it wasn’t without glitches, the capability to connect people from around the world via video–and to do so for free and using nothing more than a Web browser with a Flash plug-in–is pretty neat. You can view IBM’s Spreecast from last week at www.spreecast.com/events/ibm-powercast.